Monday, December 14, 2009

Back to the Future

Now that I'm no longer stressing about Thanksgiving I can go back to focusing on making easy dinners. The holiday leftovers lasted for one long week despite how hard we tried to incorporate them into every single meal (including bag lunches). I think I've had more turkey in the last 8 days than I have in my entire life, and I'm not happy about it. I've never been a fan of turkey and even the delicious garlic-cream pasta with spinach that I made last week for dinner seemed to mind that I deigned to add in some leftover turkey. But now all that has passed and I'm ready to go back to cooking from scratch. Unfortunately, while I was in the fifth circle of leftover hell, the majority of late fall's appetizing seasonal ingredients seem to have disappeared from most farmers markets. Some brussels sprouts can be found lingering and there are still plenty of winter squashes to be had, but other than that I'm left mostly with tubers and roots, which is when I predictably turn to soups and stews. It's not completely hopeless (yet) for a seasonal locavore such as myself, but until my winter CSA starts up in two weeks, I'll have a little bit of a challenge.

One of the things I can always count on regardless of the season is my pantry, the one little cheat that I allow myself when what's is season just doesn't satisfy. Cannellini beans can most often be seen coming to my rescue. They're a great bit of added protein that can really pull together a meal if you have a few ingredients that still need a little "something". I had a big bag of carrots still going strong and a few turnips and potatoes that I knew I needed to be used soon. These ingredients wouldn't amount to much on their own since they're in the same flavor and texture range, but with the addition of a little texture and an injection of flavor, you could really make all of the ingredients sing harmoniously. In the way of texture I popped open two trusty cans of cannellini beans, which would bring in a creamy mouth-feel and a slight legume nuttiness that would contrast really nicely with the firm, potatoes and sweet carrots. For added flavor I browned up some spicy sausage that I knew had smoked paprika and cayenne pepper, which would also lend some color to the dish.

I originally thought of making a hash, but the thought of having to chop everything teeny tiny or grating all of those vegetables after a log day at work made me change my mind. Instead I decided I'd make a winter vegetable soup with sausage and serve it with a side of arugula salad. The most time consuming part was preparing the vegetables, but it really only took me about 20 minutes total to wash, peel and chop everything (I did a rough 1/2 inch dice on all veggies--it didn't really need to be too perfect). I don't like the way onions feel in soup but love the flavor, so I just quartered mine and sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil with two cloves of garlic (smashed) and all of the vegetables. Before anything browned I removed the onions and garlic and added in a few cups of chicken stock. While everything came up to a boil and the vegetables cooked in the chicken stock (and added flavor to it) I began to brown the sausage in a separate skillet. Once the vegetables were tender I added the sausage and the beans and let them cook at a low boil until warmed through. That's all it took and it was hearty without being heavy, and all of the fall/winter veggies played their part. You could do this easily with any of your favorite veggies, not to mention you could even toss in some greenery like spinach, chard or turnips greens (ooh, ooh, or kale, yeah, kale!). It's a great way to make use of veggies or beans, and you could even switch up the type of beans. Once I get my slow cooker under control (after the holidays) I hope to start cooking dry beans en masse so I can forgo the canned ones for a while. But for now, they're still my pantry saviors. Here's how to make this soup yourself:

Winter Veggie Soup

3 small carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large or 5 small turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cans of cannellini beans, rinsed
4 spicy sausages (like hot Italian, andouille or chorizo), casings removed

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 low sodium cups chicken stock

1. In a large pot, sweat onion and garlic in olive oil until slightly softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, potatoes and turnips and sauté briefly (about 30 seconds) before removing onion and garlic from pan (you can discard them). Cover with stock and cook until vegetables are tender.

2. Meanwhile, brown sausage in a skillet and set aside. When the vegetables are cooked, add beans and sausage to the pot and cook on medium low until beans are heated through and the sausage has colored the soup (about 5 minutes). Serve and enjoy!


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