Monday, April 3, 2023

Tuscan White Bean Soup with Sausage and Greens


 I arrived in North Carolina 14 years ago right after Easter. The temperature was in the nineties. The humidity was high. And there was so much pollen in the air you could actually see it floating! 

This morning, with Easter right around the corner, I switched on the furnace to take the chill out of the morning air. Brr. In other words, it is still soup season!

This is a pretty straightforward soup and you have have many options. You don't have to add sausage. You can just as easily sub 6 slices of bacon or 6 ounces Pancetta. I prefer the sausage and, if I have it, I snip a slice or two of bacon with it for the added flavor. Why not? If you have the time, roll your sausage into small meatballs.

Your biggest option is the type of greens you use. That will depend what you have on hand, what you can afford, and, today, what you can actually find in the supermarket. I prefer escarole, but it's not easy to locate. If you use Kale, I don't suggest the frizzy kind. I prefer Italian or smooth leaves. It's just more tender. Of course, spinach is just fine as well as collards. I supposed one could use broccoli raab, but it is expensive and often difficult to find.

Canned beans work just fine for this. Just be sure to give a good rinse. If you have fresh cherry tomatoes on hand, do use instead of canned. I like canned roasted, diced tomatoes. It there is a lot of juice, I discard some of it. It's just a personal preference on my part.

For the liquid, I'm a bit persnickety. I suggest half chicken stock and half beef stock. After that, if you it more "soupy" than "stewy," add a bit more water. Chicken stock is too light for a soup like this. I find the addition of beef stock gives it a hearty "lift" it deserves to support all the veggie flavors along with the sausage. Mix in a separate bowl and taste until you get a broth you like. 

If you don't have a Parm. rind, that's okay. But do try to add a rosemary sprig at the end like suggested, but first lightly crush with a rolling pin to gets the oils going. Remember, rosemary is strong in flavor. (I know this sounds really cheap ... but I often strip the needles off of older rosemary and discard. I save the stems in the freezer in a plastic wrap just for recipes such as this ... )

Don't be afraid of the fennel bulb. It mellows as it cooks. Fennel is also good in any chicken soup or with most recipes that use oysters. Chop and freeze what you don't use. If you choose not to use the fennel bulb, the dried herbs are not optional nor is the celery. You may, of course, use all of them. That's the beauty of soup.

If you want a bit of a kick or just some warm heat, add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. I really prefer Aleppo pepper and now use it almost exclusive to red pepper flakes. 

Some people add potatoes to this soup. Some people omit carrots (Many people omit the carrots. I don't think it's traditional Italian to add them, but I like the color.) If you have it on hand, you can also add a few tablespoons washed orzo, which is a nice touch.

  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 3/4-1 pound sweet or mild Italian Sausage casings removed or
  • 6 slices bacon or part bacon/part sausage
  • 1 medium onion, chopped OR 2 leeks, shallots or all three ... about a good cup or so, total
  • 2 medium celery ribs cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (optional)
  • 1/2 medium fennel bulb, chopped (optional) and/or celery
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin, minced, pressed or a combination of all three
  • 5-6 cups stock, a mixture of chicken and beef and water--such as two cups chicken, two cups beef, one cup water.
  • 2, 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or beans of your choice)
  • 2 medium bay leaves
  • A few pinches of dried oregano leaf and thyme leaves (optional)
  • A few pinches red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper (optional)
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained and lightly rinsed.
  • 1 bunch (about 1 pound) of your favorite, fresh greens
  • 1 Parmesan rind. (When done with it, simply wipe off and refrigerate to use again.)
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary

In a heavy-bottomed pot, saute sausage and/or bacon along with onion, over medium heat. Break up sausage as it cooks. If necessary, add a drizzle of olive oil to pan. Cook about 8-10 minutes. When meat has rendered its fat, add celery and/or fennel, carrots, garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook until vegetables begin to soften.

Add your greens, can of tomatoes, bay leaves and, if using, dried oregano and thyme. Stir of low/medium heat for about 5-8 minutes.

Add your broth mixture. Stir ingredients together. If using, throw in Parmesan rind. Bring just to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. Adjust lid on pot so some steam can escape. Cook for a slow 30 minutes or so. Taste and season with salt if necessary. About 15 minutes or so before serving, add your rosemary stalk. Be sure to remove bay leaves.

SERVING OPTIONS: If you want a thicker soup, mash some of the beans against the side of the pot. If you have it on hand, drizzle in heavy cream to make a "cream soup." To serve simply as a broth soup, to each bowl drizzle on your best olive oil and grate some Italian cheese on top. Or leave off the cheese and squeeze on a few drops of fresh lemon juice.

No comments: