The weather turned cooler yesterday. It is still not what I would call cold, but there is a bit of a damp chill in the air—it seems that soup weather may have finally arrived. Last Saturday at the farmers' market I picked up a bag of beautiful young kale. So as the weather changed, and I began to think about soup, I immediately thought of the kale. Since I always have winter squash on my counter this time of year—and I love squash with kale—I decided I would make one of my favorite variations on the classic soup combination of beans and greens.
Together these two ingredients never fail to produce a sustaining and warming kind of soup. But somehow the soup this time was extraordinarily so.... It could have been the heightened sense of enjoyment that I experience every season when I taste an old favorite again for the first time that year. But I think it probably had a lot to do with the color of the soup itself. Normally a study in cream, beige and muted green, the butternut squash imbues the soup with a soft, warm orange, making it a perfect antidote to a gray autumn day.
Butternut Squash & White Bean Soup with Kale
4 to 5 T. Olive Oil
1 c. White beans (Great Northern or Cannellini are both good choices)—soaked over-night
2 medium onions (about 1 lb.), diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 to 2 t. minced Rosemary or Thyme
8 to 10 oz. Kale (Curly or Tuscan), stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch wide ribbons and rinsed thoroughly to remove any grit
1 medium Butternut Squash (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cut in a scant 1/2-inch dice (about 4 cups)
4 c. Chicken stock
Extra Virgin Olive oil for drizzling
Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Place the beans in a medium saucepan and add water to cover by an inch. Bring the beans to a boil and skim off the foam that rises to the surface. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and continue to cook the beans at a gentle simmer until the beans are very tender—about an hour and 15 minutes. Add salt to taste when the beans are half cooked. Beans may be cooked ahead. Cool the beans in their cooking liquid and bring to a simmer before finishing the soup.
About an hour before serving the soup, heat 3 T. olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and rosemary along with a pinch of salt. Sweat, reducing the heat if necessary, until the onion is very tender, stirring occasionally—about 15 minutes. It's okay if the onion mixture begins to caramelize a bit.
Add the kale and a pinch of salt and cook, turning occasionally, until it collapses. It may be necessary to increase the heat a bit.
When the kale collapses, add the squash and cook another 2 or 3 minutes, turning occasionally.
Add the stock and bring to a simmer. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water--the vegetables should be snug in the pot, but they should also move freely in the liquid when stirred.
Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup until the squash and kale are tender—about 20 to 30 minutes. At this point, I like to use the back of a spoon to smash some of the squash cubes against the side of the pan. This will give the soup a lovely orange color and a bit of body. Add the beans, along with their liquid. Again, if the soup is too thick, add water or stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Ladle soup into shallow bowls and top with coarsely grated or shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.
Makes about 2 to 2 1/2 quarts soup to serve 4 to 6.
• Cook 8 to 12 oz. of Italian link sausage in the pot before cooking the onion. When the sausage is browned, transfer to the oven and finish cooking. Slice or dice the cooked sausage, and add to the soup with the beans.
• Add 4 oz. of prosciutto, cut in a 1/4-inch dice, to the pot when the onions are finished cooking. When the prosciutto begins to sizzle a bit, add the kale.
• Substitute Swiss Chard for the Kale. Chard cooks much more quickly than kale, so wait to add it until the squash is soft and then add it with the cooked beans and their liquid. Simmer gently until the chard is tender—about 10 minutes.
• For a "post Thanksgiving" variation, use turkey stock and add some shredded roast turkey with the beans.
• If you forget to soak the beans overnight, use one of the quick soak methods outlined in my post on White Bean Soup with Sausage & Swiss Chard.