Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tuscan White Bean Soup

I love soup. At times, when I get on a soup kick, my family can really get fed up with how much I love soup. I grew up eating soup all the time. Soup, chili, stew, all kinds of brothy concoctions. So I think that has something to do with why I love soups so much; to me, soup is comfort food. Another reason: they can be so dang easy to throw together that soup is a great meal for a busy weeknight. Chop up and brown some onions, maybe some carrots and celery and meat of some kind, add broth, salt, pepper and herbs and let it simmer for a while. How easy is that?!

This recipe is so easy that I got it done in about 45 minutes, start to finish. And most of that time, I was just waiting around, getting hungrier and hungrier as it started filling my kitchen with wonderful aromas. I adapted this recipe from a Cook's Illustrated recipe. (Again.) I do that a lot, take one of their recipes and add my own little something. Here's how I tweaked it:

The CI recipe called for pancetta, I opted for Italian sausage instead. I used a local brand that was flavored with Merlot, Asiago cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. I figured that would be a tasty substitute, and it was. I could have used bacon, but this sausage sounded so yummy that I couldn't pass it up. I also added a big chunk of Parmesan cheese rind that I had in the fridge, about 2 cups of homemade chicken stock and an extra can of cannellini beans. I had some dried out french bread laying around from a few days ago, so we cut it into hunks and put it in the bottom of our bowls. I think that was my favorite part. The bread soaked up the flavorful broth and got all soft and chewy again. It was delicious! Definitely going to make it again. Already bought the ingredients.

A few days after the leftovers (sadly) were gone:
I made the soup again when I was at a loss as to what I was going to fix for dinner. This time I used only 1/2 pound of the same sausage but removed the casings and broke it up while I browned it. The first batch had too many BIG pieces of sausage, this time it had more pieces, but less sausage and therefore less fat. I also used 2 sprigs of Rosemary, a pinch of red pepper flakes and about 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock. The day after I made the soup the first time, it was too thick from the beans releasing their starches into the broth. I off-set that this time by adding a little more chicken stock at the beginning, rather than having to thin it down the second day. I decided to take the time to skim the fat off of the top of the soup while I simmered this time too. Removing the casings seemed to allow a lot more fat to float out into the soup. I can't stand to see fat floating on the top of my soup. If you're the kind of person who doesn't mind it, you can skip this step. But I was feeling rather anal that day and felt the need. All of my new tweaks worked well.

So here's the tasty, yet simple recipe. Sorry there aren't any pictures. I was so impatient to eat it, I forgot to snap a picture.

Almost Cook's Illustrated Tuscan White Bean Soup

1/2 to 1 lb Italian sausage links
2 Tbsp olive oil, if needed
1 med onion, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped garlic, about 3-4 cloves
3 1/2 c water
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 c chicken stock
5 - 14oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 sprigs Rosemary
Parmesan rind, about 3-4" piece
day-old French or Italian bread

In a large stock pot, brown sausage links. (Alternately, remove the casings and brown sausage. Leave in pan while browning onions.) Remove from pot and set aside.
Add oil to pot if there isn't enough fat from sausages. Saute onions until soft.
Add garlic, cook for about 1 minute, or until it is fragrant.
Dump water, stock and beans into pot. Put sausages back in along with Parmesan rind and Rosemary
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until sausages are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. (Chicken or Turkey = 160-165 degrees, Pork = 170 degrees)
Remove sausage links, slice them into rounds and return to the pot. (Skip this step is you browned the sausage without the casings. Instead, skim fat off of the top of the soup.)
Let simmer for 5 more minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, remove Parmesan rind and Rosemary.
Place a chunk of dry bread in bottom of bowl and ladle soup over the top.

Serving suggestions:
 - Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a little extra yummy-ness.
 - Grate Parmesan cheese on top
 - Smash up some of the beans for a thicker broth

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