Sunday, March 21, 2010

First day of spring

The calendar tells us that Saturday was the first day of Spring.  Where I live, Old Man Winter didn't get the message.  It had really begun to feel like it might finally be spring in Kansas City until late Friday afternoon when the sky clouded over and the wind shifted.  It howled all night and this morning we woke up to snow:

I am so looking forward to the foods of Spring--asparagus, spring onions, peas, tender lettuces....  As each season wanes I am always eagerly anticipating what foods will be at the market next.  But even if today's weather had agreed with the calendar, it will still be a few weeks before I can have these foods that I am beginning to crave.  So, it was nice to have a day today when the weather gave me reason to really enjoy the foods of the season that we are leaving. 

As I looked out on the snow this morning, a bean soup seemed just the thing.  I think dried beans cook best when they soak overnight, but I wasn't hungry for bean soup last night.  I'm not crazy about the "quick soak" method--bring the beans to a boil, remove them from the heat and let them sit for an hour, drain them and proceed as if they had been soaked overnight.  The beans don't seem to cook very evenly when treated this way.  I suppose if you had very fresh dried beans that this method would work well.  

What I did instead was to pour boiling water over the beans in the morning (about 6 to 8 hours before I was planning on cooking them) and then just let them sit all day.  The water cools to room temperature in about an hour and that first hour gives them a nice head start.  They then have the rest of the day to become evenly hydrated.  I usually keep beans that are soaking overnight in the refrigerator, so after the beans have been in their warm bath for an hour or so I move them to the refrigerator.  I have used this method many times.  It's a handy trick to know.  I guess it's my quick soak method.

I made the beans into one of my favorite bean soups--probably (hopefully) the last time I'll fix it until next fall.  It also has Italian Sausage, Leeks, Potatoes and Swiss Chard.  It was the perfect dinner (along with some nice hot cornbread). 

White Bean Soup with Sausage & Swiss Chard

5 T. Olive Oil, plus more for garnish
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ c. Great Northern Beans (about 10 oz.)—soaked over-night
2 t. minced Thyme or Rosemary
12 oz. Italian Sausage links—pork or chicken
2 medium onions (1 lb.), cut in a 1/3-inch dice
2 medium leeks, white and pale green only, cut in a 1/3-inch dice and rinsed thoroughly
2 medium Yukon or Idaho Potatoes (12 oz.)
4 c. Chicken stock
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems removed, leaves cut into ½-inch wide ribbons and rinsed thoroughly to remove any grit (4 cups packed—about 6 oz. trimmed weight)
Parmesan Cheese

Heat 3 T. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to sizzle—do not let it brown. Drain the beans and add to the pot along with the Thyme or Rosemary. Stir to coat with oil. Add enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two. Bring to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender—about an hour and 15 minutes. Add salt to taste when the beans are half cooked. Beans may be cooked ahead. Bring to a simmer before finishing the soup.

About an hour before serving the soup, heat 2 T. olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned—about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a 375 degree oven and continue to cook until the sausage is cooked through.  Remove from the oven and let cool, then cut the sausage into a 1/3-inch dice and reserve.

Meanwhile, reduce the heat under the soup pot to medium-low and add the onion and leek along with a generous pinch of salt. Sweat until very tender, stirring occasionally—about 15 to 20 minutes. While the onions cook, peel the potatoes and cut into a 1/3-inch dice. When the onions and leeks are tender, add the potatoes and enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender—15 to 20 minutes. Add the beans, along with their liquid, the diced sausage and the Swiss chard. If the soup is too thick, add water or stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the chard is very tender—about 10 to 20 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls and top with shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Makes 3 quarts soup to serve 6 to 8.

For dessert I took the opportunity afforded by winter's last gasp to make some gingerbread.  Gingerbread is one of my favorite winter treats and I have been wanting to make some since January.  I am always trying new recipes for gingerbread.  This one is from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey--one of my favorite cookbooks.  It was very nice.

[Gingerbread Recipe Note:  I altered the recipe slightly.  I reduced the salt to 3/4 t. and I doubled the amount of cloves.  I also reduced the baking soda to 1/2 t. and the baking powder to 1 1/2 t.  I baked the cake in a 9-inch square pan.]


Katrina said...

Love the quick soaking method. I ALWAYS forget to soak beans overnight, but often wish by morning I could still do something with dried beans. Perfect! Can't wait to try it!
And yes, the snow could not be more annoying. Sigh. I was just thinking of making ginger cookies yesterday--I was loving them this past holidays. Must be because of the snow.
Looks like it's melting quickly out here, we'll see!
(Lovin' you blogging, Paige!)

Valen said...

The soup looks good! I love gingerbread!

Cristie said...

Great looking soup and who could turn gingerbread away on a cold day? We had a snow storm today . . . spring will come.

Olive said...

the soup looks hearty..the gingerbread looks yummy too..thanks for sharing :)