Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tuscan Bean Soup or It Might as Well be Spring

One-pot, no soak Tuscan Bean Soup with Rosemary and Chicken

Hot, cold.  Hot, cold.  The weather here is like a menopausal woman.  To be fair, it hasn't been hot.  Except in my house where there's a radiator stuck on high.  According to local legend, it can't be fixed until summer.   Who said?  So when I clean the bathroom upstairs, I turn into a sauna.   That's right, I used the correct pronoun.

Outdoors yesterday, the temperature hit about 41 degrees Fahrenheit.   The Macalester College running club (We live about 4 blocks from "Mac.")  ran by in T-tiny shorts singing,
"We're  having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave.  The temperature's rising; it isn't surprising..."
 While I'm the first girl to put on her tee shirt and grill (actually I don't grill outdoors and don't care to learn--that's what Dave is for), I'll always have to admit I adore indoor and cozy cooking.  I like it cold enough to leave the oven on for hours happily braising while I read. ("I'm cooking today.")  Or for a soup to giggle and pop all afternoon on the stove.  I'm the woman Hillary Clinton didn't want to be...I did stay home and bake cookies. Among other things.  So I'm the only person in the Twin Cities who is glad it's still kinda cold.  (It's 67 in Colorado Springs; I've been watching.)  Everyone else is giving their flip flops a test run in the lingering snow while I am snug in my Clarks' boots.  I'll give you this:  my blood is still thickening after 15 years in Colorado where the beautiful weather is a well-kept secret.

What's the pits is that the dogs are so funky dirty stinky from the melting snow-mud that I'd like to drop them off at the groomers and let them live there for the next month.  We've got a dog shower in the basement (no joke) that I guess I'll break down and use, though they'll just be filthy again in ten and my back will hurt.

Dad's in a big meeting on the phone; we have to stay out. Whah.
 All that said (are you tired of that phrase?) I'm still in the mood for homey, warming soups and stews.  Not only because the weather calls for them, but also because they feed us well, healthily and economically.  Who doesn't like to cook once and eat thrice?  Or eat once, freeze and eat once a week for the next two?  Or share like we'll do tonight with a friend.  I'll take some bread to a neighbor who adores bread, too.

Here's the No-Knead Bread I made for the soup.



What's food for if it isn't shared?  Speaking of which, the book TAKE THIS BREAD, by Sara Miles is life-changing (as I mentioned at the end of the last post).  A "radical" conversation about communion, the book is also a lot about food, feeding people, and what that all means to you and me.  In my world (in my heart), we are called to feed one another in many ways...but I believe firmly that we are called to share, eat and love one another because of it.  While there are no atheists in fox holes, there might also be no enemies around a dinner table.  What?  We could toast,
Here's to you.  I hate you.

I don't think so.  Touching bread together is a means of healing.  In many ways.

Here's to this soup; it's something you could easily share.  Don't be afraid.  People love to be invited.  They don't care if you haven't swept (and if they do, they need to get over THAT), but they care that someone is interested enough in them to want to spend an evening --a morning, an afternoon-- with them.  They care that someone loves enough to cook.  A restaurant meal (much the thing now) isn't the same.  To begin with, the restaurant:
  1. is expensive
  2. might not be healthy
  3. wants you gone
  4. wants to have someone else at your table
  5. wants to make more money
  6. doesn't put your love into the food
All right, I'll give you this:  they might.  Many cooks/chefs really want the best for their customers, but just as many simply want it to be nine o'clock. 

Beans, water,  ham hock and rosemary...it starts like this.
 So call a friend(s), throw the place mats on the table, turn on the music, light the candles, pour the wine, and make this soup.  Not in that order.  Some tiny bit of a crunchy salad and a chewy boule or baguette round out the meal and the bread's great for dunking.  A couple of tiny cookies or a small scoop of gelato would be sweet for an ending.    (Wine? I like a Cotes du Rhone here, but you might prefer a light Italian red like a Moltepulciano.) Here's the story in pictures:

Start with a great ham hock.

Cook the beans with onion, rosemary and the ham hock.  No salt.

Remove the hock, add stock, chicken pieces, and veg.

Throw in a couple of tomatoes with the chicken and vegetables; remove to cool, peel easily, and chop.

Chop the rosemary finely this time; you don't want to eat a Christmas tree.

Carefully chop meat from hock.  Remove fat and tendons; check for bones.

Now that's an easy way to peel a tomato.

The chicken, simmered in liquid, is done quickly.  Remove, cool, skin, bone, and shred.

Put it all back in the pot and let her roll. Turn down and simmer. 
 Cook's Note:  No cooking and letting the beans sit for an hour; no overnight soak. You just start cooking the beans for this soup in one pan and add EVERYTHING else in a row.  Total cooking/prep time is 3 hours, perhaps less.  I gave it an extra 30 minutes simmer to come together at the end.  Of course it's great the next day after all the ingredients swam in the same sea, slept in the same bed, washed in the same water, or whatever metaphor floats your boat.

Tuscan Bean Soup with Rosemary and Chicken makes 5 qts approximately

1/2-3/4# dried cannellini or northern white bean/navy beans
1 ham hock (I used half a large one)
2 large onions, peeled and chopped, divided
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs rosemary, divided  (Leave one whole; mince the other.)

3 pieces chicken with bones and skin
1 qt chicken stock, low or no salt
1 c white wine or water
2 firm red tomatoes (or 1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes)
1 c chopped carrots
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
(1/4 c chopped cabbage, 1/4 c chopped green beans, optional-I had them and put them in.)
1/4 c chopped parsley
Kosher salt; freshly ground pepper (start with 1 tsp salt and 1/8 t pepper)
Several drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce (or a pinch of crushed red pepper or ground cayenne)

1 c fresh spinach leaves

1/2 c Parmesan
Zest of 1 fresh lemon

  1. Bring to a boil beans and 2-3 qts peppered (no salt) water.  Add  ham hock, 1 of the chopped onions, and a whole sprig of rosemary.  (Leave the stem in until soup is done; the leaves will have cooked and become quite tender at the end of 3 hours.) Lower heat, cover partially, and let cook at a low boil for about 1 1/2 hours until beans are becoming tender.  Add some water if beans are not boiling freely.  Remove ham hock, cool, shred (leave out fat and gristle) and return meat to pot.
  2. Add chicken stock, wine or water, 3 pieces of chicken, and all of the vegetables/herbs (including the other chopped onion, the other sprig of minced rosemary, and the other 2 chopped garlic cloves) except the spinach.  Stir in salt, pepper and Tabasco.  Return to a boil; lower heat and simmer 2-3 minutes.  Remove tomatoes and let cool a few minutes.  Skin, chop and return tomatoes to pot.
  3. Cook soup until chicken is no longer pink in middle and vegetables are tender, 20 minutes or so.  Remove chicken and let cool for five minutes. Skin, bone and chop.  Return meat to the pot; discard bones and skin.  (Unless you have a dog who likes chicken skin.)  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. Remove 2 cups of the soup and puree in the food processor or mash well with a potato masher.  You could also use an immersion blender very briefly.* Return mashed soup to pot, stir, and bring to a boil.   Cook a couple of minutes and lower heat to a bare simmer.
  5. Add spinach; cook 1 minute.  Stir well.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  More salt?  Pepper?  Hot sauce?  Carefully add just a teense of any of these and taste again.   Serve hot  with 1T grated Parmesan and a 1/2 tsp lemon rind to top each large bowl.  A dusting of pepper might be welcome as well.
*You want a soup that shows all of its elements--beans, vegetables and meat--merely thickened by the small amount of pureed soup.  You don't want a totally pureed soup.



Two-Dog Kitchen

In St. Paul, spring wants to come.  People and animals (see brave bunny below) are all ready for warming sun, a day in the yard, a stroll in the park.  I must say they are hardy creatures, though.  There hasn't yet been a day when folks aren't taking a walk, shopping, etc.  Snow, 14 degrees, wind, whatever.  These are outdoor people.  One day when I thought it was WAY too cold to venture far beyond the warm car, I saw a dad wheeling a stroller, taking the kid for a spin.  I got on my boots, tied up my scarf, and went for a walk.  I'm learning.

Pat the bunny.  Our reason to bark.  A lot.

Dad loves us again and is off the phone with people.  Office furniture on order.  Also paint.

We really didn't.
Sing a new song,
Alyce

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