Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Kale-Almond Pesto

kale pesto

I am thrilled that in recent years, kale has gained respect as the new ‘it’ vegetable. See, for a good number of years, this leafy, powerful green was cast aside for more delicate offerings like baby spinach and arugula. If kale is the poster child for health and all things good and wholesome in the booming food movement, then I am a supporter, a rebel for the cause. I can’t get enough of the stuff. I shred the Tuscan variety for salads, roast it’s leaves for ‘chips’ and stuff handfuls in my blender, whirring up green smoothies. Why the near obsession? Aside from it’s versatility, you can’t forget that, ounce for ounce, it contains more nutrients and health benefits than just about any vegetable on earth?!

This method for kale pesto includes an extra step you won’t see in traditional basil pesto recipes. Blanching the kale helps retain it’s bright green color, softens it a bit and mellows the flavor just a notch. Don’t skip it.

Aside from pasta,  smear your kale pesto on sandwiches, fold into grain salads or spread on sliced tomatoes and mozzarella for a new take on the classic caprese.

Kale-Almond Pesto

Adapted from True Food Kitchen by Dr. Andrew Weil

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 large bunch kale (about 6 cups), inner stems removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted almonds
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Kosher salt
  • Red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add kale and cook for blanch for 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water and allow to cool. Drain and squeeze out as much water as you can (in a kitchen towel or with your hands.

In a food processor, add the dried kale, garlic, cheese and almonds. Pulse to combine. With the machine running, stream in the olive oil. This will give you a thicker pesto, if you like it thinner, add more olive oil. Pulse in the lemon zest, juice, salt and red pepper flakes, taste, and add more of everything to achieve pesto perfection. Toss with hot pasta immediately or store in the fridge in an airtight jar or container with a layer of plastic wrap over the surface. Will keep for 3-4 days.

Coconut-Spinach Fried Rice

fried rice

For the exception of baking, I rarely cook from recipes. In culinary school, we would tediously copy the day’s curriculum on index cards. We quickly learned that the assignment was more about the act of remembering the recipes than for us to follow them word-for-word. I’m not discrediting recipes – I subscribe to just about every food magazine and own my fair share of cookbooks. They’re excellent inspiration and a great tool for getting more comfortable with technique. But learning how to cook, really cook, requires some gumption. It definitely includes mistakes. And improvisation, creativity and, well, common sense.

I always say that anyone who eats can be a good cook. Think about it: you already know what foods and flavors you like together. Once you learn a technique, like this simple fried rice, you can vary it depending on what you have in the fridge or what looks good at the market. Not a fan of coconut oil? Grapeseed oil is a neutral substitute. Ran out of spinach? Sub in leftover broccoli or frozen veggies. The rest is just a dip in the pantry or fridge: rice, oil, vinegar, eggs, hot sauce. I challenge you to read this recipe and be bold with your variations. Let me know how it goes.

Coconut-Spinach Fried Rice

Serves 2

1 T. coconut oil, plus more if necessary

2 scallions, finely sliced, white and green parts divided

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger

1 cup cooked brown rice (I used leftover brown basmati)

2 T. low-sodium tamari

2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped

1 cup kale, stemmed and thinly sliced (optional)

1 egg, lightly beaten

Lime juice or rice vinegar

Chile-garlic sauce or Sriracha

Sesame oil

  1. Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add white parts of scallion, ginger and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust heat if necessary to prevent burning.
  2. Add the brown rice and cook for a few minutes to heat through. Add a bit more coconut oil if it starts to stick to the pan. Add tamari, spinach and/or kale and cook for a few more minutes until wilted. Increase heat and add the egg, stirring constantly, until egg is scrambled in the rice mixture. Add a bit more coconut oil if it sticks.
  3. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice or rice vinegar, hot sauce and a tiny drizzle of sesame oil. Sprinkle with green scallions before serving.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

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From what I’ve observed, people in NYC really like brunch. I’ve always been a little ‘meh’ about the meal. There’s often a long wait for a table, you feel rushed the entire meal and to be honest, I’m just not big on drinking mimosas at 1pm.

Yet, the other weekend I found myself at Freemans, a tucked away Colonial cottage-turned-restaurant located in an alley (!) in the Lower East Side. As I caught up with a friend over poached eggs and cheddar grits, I suddenly understood the hype about brunch. Weeknight plans often get in the way of our best intentions for a leisurely dinner. But we can all set aside an hour or two on a Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s my take on the veg-heavy hashes popping up at some of the ‘cool kid’ brunch spots. Daytime mimosa optional.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

Serves 1-2

Olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Handful or two Tuscan (lacinato/dinosaur) kale, ribbed removed and thinly sliced
3-4 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tsp (eyeball) fresh thyme leaves (or another herb, like rosemary)
Pinch smoked paprika (optional)
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Eggs
White vinegar

  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add shallot and cook until lightly golden brown and crisp (be careful not to burn!) Remove crispy shallots (leaving oil in the pan) and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
  3. Add kale and brussels sprouts to the skillet and saute about 5 minutes, until kale is tender and Brussels are a bit crisp. Add thyme, paprika and salt & pepper to taste. Set aside while you prep the eggs.
  4. Use this method to poach your eggs. It’s the best way I’ve found for beginners (or anyone, for that matter).
  5. Rewarm kale mixture. Serve eggs on top of veggies with the reserved crispy shallot.