Monday, April 29, 2024

Creamy Italian Sausage, White Bean, Tomato, Spinach Soup

It's been a finicky spring. A few days warm and sunny followed by cold, rainy and damp. In other words, it is still soup weather. To use up a few Italian sausage links, I threw together this soup. It was really good! Next time, I will throw in some pasta . . .

The key here are the tomatoes. You want a good brand you can actually eat out of can and drink a bit of the juice. My preferred brand is "CIRIO" imported from Italy. They are mild and sweet, not acidic. I buy the whole ones and break them down myself. These are a mid-priced brand and I'm very happy with them. 

For the sausage, squeeze out smaller "coin-sized" pieces from the casings and add to the onion mixture. No need to fry and break apart. An onion will do just as well as a shallot, or use a combo of both--even a leek.

Use as much or as little spinach you want. Just be sure it is fresh. You could also use something a bit more affordable and sturdy, such as kale.

If you want to take this to more of a "stew" rather than a "soup," just increase sausages, beans, greens and decrease liquid ingredients. You could also add carrots and celery, if desired. I've done both, depending what I have in the fridge. Just cut thinly and add to onion mixture when sautéing. 

You don't have to add the cream, but it does mellow all the flavors!

  • 1-2 cups roughly chopped "greens," I used fresh spinach
  • 2 Italian sausage links, (I used "mild")
  • 1 large shallot bulb or 1/2 small/medium onion, (or a mixture) finely sliced and then chopped.
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot and stalk of celery (optional)
  • About 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon lightly crushed/bruised fennel seeds (don't omit)
  • 1-2 cans drained cannilini beans (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly broken up (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can water or flavored stock of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon you favorite Italian spices
  • Pinch or two white sugar and salt
  • Sprinkle of hot pepper flakes (I use dried Aleppo Peppers)
  • Handful pasta of your choice. I like little shells (optional)
  • 1/2 to one cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Parmesan Cheese (about 1-2 tablespoons, grated) plus extra for presentation

In a medium saucepan, drizzle a bit of olive oil and begin to sauté onion just until it  begins to soften. Add half of your garlic, the fennel seed, Italian spices. Mix. Begin adding sausage "coins" just to brown a bit. Add beans, tomatoes, pepper flakes. Add water or stock until you are happy with the consistency. Stir. Taste. If needed, add sugar and salt. Add your greens. And rest of the garlic. Allow to simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Taste for seasonings. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and heavy cream. Stir through.

Ladle into bowls. Pass around more Parm for those who want it. 


Monday, April 22, 2024

"Stewed" Potatoes--A Southern Staple

For many, a forgotten recipe. Make it a part of your family's memory tonight!

Have you missed me? I did. LOL ...

The beginning of 2024 was anything but auspicious. Following New Year's I caught "the bug" that was floating around. Or it caught me. It lasted into February. Then I hurt my back, yet again. By March, I thought I was on the mend, but my forever-enlarged prostate started acting up. Eventually, I had to drag to myself to emergency room because I could not urinate. A week later, I had emergency surgery to open up the prostate and to have a biopsy. After a month of living with a catheter in an apartment with steps, and by myself, I am free with no sign of cancer! More importantly, I can urinate on my own just like the big boys . . . 

I'm still a bit queasy and not quite up to my old self. Nothing like illness to cause you to lose weight ... I'm down 12 pounds! YEA! 

My appetite is plain and bland. Simple. So I thought I would post this recipe for "stewed potatoes" a Southern classic I have been preparing a lot lately with one of my favorite meals, boiled chicken legs.

As easy as the ingredients and instructions are, it may take you a few tries to master this recipe's simplicity. Your aim is a seasoned white gravy that is neither too watery nor too pasty. It can be tricky.

This was a staple for many Southerners during lean times. It fed families with children during the Depression in the mountains when meat was scarce and/or nonexistent. Most families grew and stored their own potatoes.

Some thicken this with flour. Some with corn starch (my preference). Some simply smash a few potatoes to do the job. Some use milk; some, heavy cream; others, canned evaporated milk. Just don't use low-fat milk. Some, at the end, drizzle in a bit of bacon fat for the flavor. You do you. BTW, cornstarch is simply flour. It adds no taste to recipes.

Personally, I always add some dried onion flakes and a few slices of sliced garlic to the potatoes as I boil them ( I do the same when making mashed potatoes). The real trick is to get them just to the fork/knife tender stage, then to stop the cooking. You do not want mushy, so be careful or you will end up with soupy and/or mashed potatoes.

A sprinkle of green onions and a dab or two of sour cream is great! Cornbread and a salad makes it a meal!

For one or two people, a couple medium russets will do. You want starchy potatoes--but I've read recipes where people use canned new potatoes. Most recipes call for 6-8 medium potatoes. Always peel them. Always give a good rinse after cutting into chunks.

You may want to increase recipe a bit more than you would eat at one sitting. Re-heated, they are good with eggs and bacon--kind of like grits. Or warm them up, add a bit more milk and grate in cheese and you have a simple potato soup. 

  • 3-4 Russet potatoes, peeled and washed
  • 1 good tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/4 cup milk, cream or evaporated milk
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes
  • Optional: A few thin slices fresh garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter

Scrub potatoes before peeling. Slice lengthwise then into one-inch chunks. Place in medium saucepan. Rinse. Fill with cold water just until potatoes are covered. Add onion flakes and garlic, if using. Season with salt. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and boil about 15 minutes just until fork tender. You do not want "mushy."

Remove from heat. Now here's the tricky part--pour off some of the water. It should be about one-half inch below top of potatoes. (Some people don't pour off any, but that's too soupy for me.)

Place on low heat.

Mix your corn-starch slurry (or flour) in a small cup or shaker. Be sure there are no lumps. slowly add to potatoes in pan. Carefully stir without breaking up potatoes. You will need to add more salt and as much pepper as you like. As it thickens, add a few tablespoons of butter. If not think enough, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pan to release their starch. If too thick, add a bit more liquid.

I serve in small vintage dining-car bowls . . .