Living with Carol, my wife of 35 years, has been like living with a personal, private chef all this time.
We both became interested in food in the early 70s and then our paths slightly diverged; I became a writer about food and wine, and a reviewer of restaurant fare, while Carol, who worked as an editor for one of Canada’s most popular magazines, passionately devoted herself to learning about cuisine. Over time, she became one of the best home cooks I have ever known.
As time went by, Carol evolved a style of cuisine all her own; friends call it “cuisine carolaise,” though it is not French, per se, but rather a wine-country cuisine (if you have to give it a name), based on the freshest, best-quality ingredients, sympathetic amounts of oil and lots of fresh vegetables and herbs, many from Carol’s large organic garden.
As a professional food editor, Carol is the first one to acknowledge that very few recipes are truly 100 percent original. Rather, each cook puts his, or her, “imprimatur” on a dish and sometimes their updates, or small “inspirations,” will turn a good dish into an outstanding one.
Which is what happened to the recipe below for Sausage & Bean Soup with Tuscan Kale. Carol prepared it two months ago; I was bowled over by the texture and flavors… and by the joy, which this dish brought me. I begged her to give me the recipe for napaman.com readers.
But Carol wouldn’t budge. “I’m not comfortable publishing a recipe until I’ve made the dish enough times that I fully understand it and what the possible pitfalls might be,” she explained. (Trust me: I’ve heard this rationale before whenever I’ve tried to get her to give me a print-out of some supernal dish she made the previous night!)
So, in order to get napaman.com readers this recipe, I first had to encourage Carol to make the sausage and bean soup several more times – for scientific accuracy. We invited friends over for dinners; they went gaga for the dish the same way I had… and then they started begging Carol for the recipe. This was just the proof that Carol needed to sit down and work out the details.
Lucky are you who make this soup/stew, or whatever you want to call this one-bowl dinner. It’s seriously delicious and, according to Carol, very easy to make.
I like to serve 4- to 5-year-old Spanish, or Italian, reds with this hearty dish. They tend to complement this spicy sausage and bean stew. But a good Napa Valley Syrah, Petite Sirah, or racy Zinfandel will complement the dish beautifully, too.
Sausage & Bean Soup with Tuscan Kale
Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur kale, lacinato kale or cavalo nero, is a dark leafy green that adds rich flavor and great texture to thick and hearty bean soups. If you can’t find cavalo nero at your local market, you can substitute Savoy cabbage or other greens of your choice, such as Swiss chard.
I often make this soup early in the day and let it sit at room temperature for several hours before serving. Or you can make the beans in the morning and prepare the remainder of the dish several hours later. After you’ve made this a few times, you’ll develop your own rhythm and your own variations. For example, if you have fresh tomatoes in your garden, you can use them instead of the canned variety. Or try using different sausages than the hot and sweet Italian sausages listed in the ingredients.
Although I call this soup, it’s really more of a stew and I always serve it as a main course. Follow with a salad of mixed greens.
1 lb dried navy beans
4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
4 tbsp (approx.) good-quality olive oil
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 large cooking onion, coarsely chopped
2 hot Italian sausages, casing removed
2 sweet Italian sausages, casing removed
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
5 or 6 fresh carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 bunches Tuscan kale, stems removed and leaves sliced in 2-inch ribbons
1 to 2 cups (or more) chicken stock, preferably homemade, or boiling water
Freshly ground pepper
6 to 8 thin slices day-old bread, such as pain au levain
Whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Rinse beans and place in medium-sized heavy saucepan with 8 cups cold water. Bring to boil and immediately reduce heat to low so that beans cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer. Add 4 whole cloves garlic, 6 to 8 fresh sage leaves and 2 tbsp olive oil. Simmer, uncovered, for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring periodically, then add 2 tsp kosher salt and continue cooking and stirring until beans are nearly tender, about 1 hour. Turn off heat and cover pot. (There should still be a small amount of liquid in pot.) At this point, you can let beans stand at room temperature for several hours without refrigerating. Or continue with next step.
In large heavy saucepan or soup pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add dried red pepper flakes, if using, finely chopped garlic, onion and sausage meat. Cook, stirring and breaking up sausage meat, until sausage is no longer pink. This should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue cooking for a few minutes. Add carrots and kale and continue cooking, stirring often, until kale is wilted.
Add beans and their liquid to soup pot and continue cooking until heated through. Add 1 to 2 cups of chicken stock or water, depending on desired thickness, and continue cooking, over low heat, for about 20 to 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If making soup early in the day, turn off heat and let sit on burner until serving.
Prepare garlic toasts: Preheat oven to 400F. Place bread on baking sheet and place in oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, just until bread is toasted. Check frequently so bread doesn’t burn; it should be golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven, let cool just until you can comfortably handle bread, and rub on both sides with whole cloves of garlic.
To serve: Place a slice of garlic toast in each soup bowl. Ladle hot soup on top. Sprinkle with grated cheese.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.