March is one of those months that’s all over the place: warm, windy and dry one day, cool, cloudy and damp the next. Back and forth it goes much like that of a fickle friend. And somewhere in between it all, spring slips in dragging winter along with her for one last hurrah. I’m not complaining in the least. I welcome chilly gray days especially when they are accompanied by the sound of raindrops tapping on my windows – somewhat of a rare occurrence this year.
And oh how I’ve missed those days. The ones where I cozy up next to the fire with no ambition other than to watch the rain poke holes in my to-do list. It’s natures way of reining me back in to regroup and come up with another plan for the day. Or not.
It’s a perfect reason to make soup – as if I really need a reason.
For me, making soup is soulful, contemplative and solitary – just me, alone in my kitchen with a beautiful mess of vegetables, a bunch of thoughts needing resolution and no distractions other than the intermittent sounds that go along with stormy weather. The repetitive patterns of chopping, scooping and dropping – handful by handful – somehow helps me when my mind is heavy and introspective as it lately has been. The process of trimming something large and breaking it up into more manageable pieces is so comforting and appealing in its own way. But being able to put a lid on the pot – and lett everything simmer together for a while – without having to tend to it too closely has more of a purpose than just for making soup.
There’s an easy-going approach to making soup that I find liberating. A few mismatched vegetables – too few to make a proper side dish – find their way into the soup pot just as easily as a beautiful head of escarole does after enticing me at the farm stand. There are no hard and fast rules with soup, just a pathway and the comfort of knowing that I can make a turn at any point and not get lost. And when wisps of steam begin to swirl from the gaps between the pot’s rim and lid, it’s a silent signal that leads me to a bowl and ladle.
Soup is slow and you can’t rush the rhythmic crackle of crusty bread or faint whistle that comes from gently blowing on it anymore than you can rush the storm outside. But with each warming spoonful, everything seems to come back into alignment inside and out. It just takes a little time. And within a matter of hours the clouds will likely clear and spring will have left winter behind. For the time being. Just like the fickle friend she is.
Escarole has a slight bitterness that really works well with sausage and beans. I find it is better to eat in in the colder months of the year when it is less bitter.
This recipe makes a lot of hearty soup. As with all soups, I feel they get better after a good resting period - like the next day. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for quite a few days.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound Italian sausage (about 5 links)
- 1 medium-large onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 head escarole, chopped
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 1 16 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans with liquid
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- In a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium and add onions and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high and add chopped escarole all at once. With tongs, begin to toss escarole with onions and carrot until it begins to wilt, about 4 minutes.
- Add garlic, combine and cook for another minute.
- Add chicken stock, diced tomatoes and beans and bring to a boil, about 5-6 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut partially cooked sausages into 1/4-inch slices and add into the stock mixture. (The boiling stock will continue to cook the sausages.) Cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper (see notes below).
- Sprinkle individual servings with grated Parmesan cheese and serve with crusty bread.
I used sweet Italian sausage.
Onion size varies greatly and I probably had close to 2 cups worth from a medium-large onion.
The first few times I made this soup, I cracked the garlic and removed it later, which is still an option. But I like the flavor that comes from the garlic bits swimming in the soup just like the onion.
If the carrots are large, halve the carrots first and then slice.
The salt level of chicken stock or broth combined with canned tomatoes and beans can be tricky to gauge, which is why I left the salt and pepper "to taste." If I don't have stock on hand, I use Trader Joe's Low Sodium Organic Chicken Broth (2 32-ounce cartons). When I use that, I end up adding about 1-1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt to the pot.
I also used Trader Joe's canned cannellini beans and diced tomatoes.