Photo; Tuscan White Bean Soup with Sausage and Winter Vegetables, and a basket of toasted pita chips, some sprinkled with sumac and some with za'atar. Comfort food for a rainy day lunch.
It was a stay-at-home kind of Seattle day, gray and damp outside with no particular reason to be out and about. A new bread experiment with an Italian braided loaf sat rising on the kitchen counter. Ingredients for gift packages of cookies, candies and spiced nuts awaited my efforts... and still wait. Sitting at the computer to shop on-line was easier than fighting the traffic and crowds at the mall, so I was happy to stay at home. No issues with cabin fever any longer - knowing that I finally can drive makes a ton of difference.
A rainy December day seemed perfect for a soup lunch, some easy-to-make comfort food. (I say the same thing on those cold Spring days afloat when we're cruising north; soup comforts the body and soul.) The refrigerator held the ingredients for a batch of soup with cannellini beans, spicy sausage and an assortment of winter vegetables added for vitamins and color. I don't usually add the vegies to Tuscan White Bean Soup, but it was a tasty variation I would repeat again.
The soup is best when it can rest overnight in the fridge to temper and mellow the flavors, but we couldn't wait. It was delicious on Day 1, and even better on Day 2. The potatoes would not freeze well, but we usually finish the soup before freezing is an issue.
Adapted from recipes and variations found in The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews by Cook’s Illustrated; serves 8 to 10
1 links of sausage, spiced with chilis and herbs, cut into coins and halved or quartered
4 oz thick-cut bacon, chunked (I used bits & pieces)
1 medium onion, chopped in medium dice
1 large carrot, chopped in medium dice
1 large celery stalk, chopped in medium dice
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary)
4-6 cups chicken stock (low-sodium is my choice)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (salt if desired)
1 waxy potato, in medium dice
A handful of spicy greens (escarole, mustard greens, etc), julienned
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Several big handfuls of baby spinach
For garnish (optional)
Zest of one lemon
Fresh basil, julienned or Italian parsley, rough chopped
Grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
1. Saute the meats in a heavy soup pot over medium heat and cook until golden. The idea is to render the fat, but do not cook until crispy. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.
2. Saute the onion, carrots and celery until just softened, but not browned. Add the garlic, bay leaf and rosemary and cook briefly until fragrant but not crisp.
3. Add 4+ cups chicken stock, the diced potato and julienned mustard greens and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat and let sit until the potatoes are barely tender, about 10-15 minutes.
4. Add the beans to the pot and bring back to a boil over medium heat. Remove the rosemary sprig. Taste and adjust seasonings. Return the meat to the pot. Add the baby spinach and stir into the soup. Cook until potatoes are soft.
5. Ladle the soup into individual bowls, top with any or all of the suggested garnishes and drizzle a splash of balsamic vinegar over the top of each serving.
Note: The beans and potatoes absorb considerable liquid as the soup simmers, or rests overnight if you hold it. Add additional chicken stock as needed to gain the consistency you desire.