Monday, January 17, 2011

Farmers Market Meal: White Bean, Sausage & Kale Soup

I got some white beans at the farmers market a few weeks ago that I've been loving. These particular beans cook much faster than traditional dry beans and I really love the texture and flavor. They're perfect for ribollita, minestrone or your own made-up hearty soup which is what I used them for last night.

What better to pair these delicious beans with than the best chicken broth ever, which happens to be your basic chicken stock recipe with a ham hock added - courtesy of Mixed Greens Blog.

I loaded up on veggies at the farmers market yesterday and had some Skagit River Ranch hot Italian sausage in the freezer plus a few leftover slices of prosciutto. All roads point to soup and there isn't much I love more on a Sunday night, or any weeknight for that matter, than a huge bowl of hearty soup.
I consulted a few recipes (Kale and White Bean Soup from Epicurious and Pasta & Bean Soup from The Essential New York Times Cookbook) and was ready to roll. The beauty of a hearty soup like this is that you can't really mess it up. Throw in a bunch of veggies, a great stock and some flavorful meat (prosciutto, sausage or pancetta) and let her simmer for a few hours. Here's my latest version but know that any variation of this will surely be delicious.
White Bean, Sausage & Kale Soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
few slices prosciutto, chopped (with the fat)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

1 or 2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 t minced rosemary
2 cups chopped kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (roughly 5 large whole leaves or 2 or 3 handfuls of chopped kale)
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut in half (or two small ones)

1 bay leaf
1 or 2 parmesan rinds
1 T (heaping) tomato paste or half can whole peeled tomatoes (crushed in your hand) + juices

2 1/2 quarts chicken stock (preferably homemade, preferably with a ham hock)
few handfuls dry white cannellini beans (1 1/2 cups roughly) that were soaked overnight
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 hot Italian sausage
Freshly grated parmesan for finishing

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring regularly, until it starts to crisp. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the carrots and celery. Cook and stir for about six minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add garlic for a minute or two. Season with pepper. Add rosemary, kale, potato, bay leaf, parmesan rind (or two), chicken stock and tomato paste (or whole peeled tomatoes crushing with your hand). Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce and add the beans. Depending on the beans you buy they could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to fully cook. Stir occasionally. While the soup simmers, heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and brown your sausage. Throw into the soup at any time. The longer it's in there the better. After the soup has cooked for an hour or so, remove the potato and mash in a small bowl, then return to the soup pot. This will create a creamier broth. (If you skip the potato you can also take out some of the soup and use an immersion blender to blend it, then return to the pot. Same effect.) Check for seasoning and serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Note: I prefer cannellini beans to Great Northern beans because they are creamier and less grainy. Normally I would cook the sausage at the beginning but I forgot I had it when I started with prosciutto, so I just added it in later. Like I said, there are no rules to a good hearty soup.

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