Summer is over. Make soup.
Many years ago I experienced a soup like this in a little Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. I was impressed with how the meat was not dominant and was cooked in as a condiment to enhance body and flavor. I was impressed with how the beans absorbed and married in with the meaty flavor. Long before the kale craze, I was impressed with how the kale wilted with tender harmony. I was impressed with how this soup hit the spot with my favorite Italian taste profile — garlic, onions, fresh herbs and a flash of red chile flakes for extra warmth. I was so impressed that I worked up this recipe.
Italian Sausage, Bean and Greens Soup
Mise en place. Get it together
First, lay everything out. Professionals call this mise en place. Using a sheet pan, make piles of each prepared ingredient.
A good, spicy Italian sausage is essential for this recipe. Use pork, turkey or plant-based vegan sausage (like Field Roast Italian Garlic and Fennell). Use two sausage links, peel off the wrappers and cut them into slices. Make a sausage pile on the sheet pan.
Add these ingredients in individual successive piles: six big cloves of garlic, finely minced, and one large onion, chopped (about three cups).
Continue preparing and piling: a pound of yellow or red potatoes, rough-cut in 1-1/2” pieces, or use 1-1/2 pounds of that monster zucchini crowding your refrigerator.
Now for the greens. Take your pick: kale, Swiss chard, collards or cabbage. Pile the leaves up and then slice them thinly into fine shreds. Give the shreds a few cross cuts. You’ll need three or four cups of packed greens.
Then the beans: two or three cups, cooked from scratch or canned. Take your pick among white navy beans, garbanzos, lima beans, black beans or even lentils. Drain the bean liquid and set it aside. (This rich bean stock can take the place of some of the water.) Put the beans in a bowl and set them on the prep tray.
Depending on how well seasoned the sausage is I usually throw in some fresh oregano, rosemary and/or sage. This is optional, use one or two sprigs, put them on your tray. (By the way, oregano, rosemary and sage are incredibly easy to grow. They are all perennial, which means everlasting. Buy plants at the nursery. They can go in pots or in the ground. With minimum care, they will thrive and give you all the fresh herbs you ever need.)
Get out the salt, olive oil, and pepper mill (fresh-ground is best) and some red pepper flakes. (I like El Guapo chile quebrado, crushed chile, from the Mexican spice rack.) Set them all on the tray.
Finally the grated Italian cheese, which is also optional: Pecorino Romano, sheep cheese, from Sardinia via Costco is the best. Grate about 3/4 cup. Leave it in the measuring cup and put that on the tray.
Your mise en place is now complete.
All set. Go cook.
Get out a big pot. This recipe makes twelve cups. Fire up your burner, put the pot on and add three tablespoons of olive oil and the sausage. Over medium heat cook and stir, sizzle and brown. Add the onions and garlic and continue stirring and browning.
With the browning there are two complex chemical processes going on. Caramelization, the browning of sugars, for sweet, nutty flavor and brown color, and the Maillard reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. The chemistry is complex but the result is deep flavors and aromas that you can smell right now.
While things are sizzling add a big pinch of black pepper and the sprig/s of green herbs (optional). Keep the heat low enough to avoid burning. Stir often and don’t worry about some sticking. This process creates the foundation of flavor for this soup. The French call this the fond.
When everything is nicely browned add 6-1/2 cups of water (include the bean juice in this measurement). Add the potatoes or zucchini. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is tender. Add the greens and beans. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and remove herb sprigs if you used them.
Now “season to taste,” meaning salt, pepper and chili flakes, and taste, taste and taste to get it perfect. Season gradually. These last pinches make the difference between blah and great. Go for perfection. Then garnish each bowl with a generous sprinkle of cheese (optional).
In this season of change, away from summer and toward winter, this nourishing, vibrant, satisfying and warming soup really hits the spot.
View the full recipe with this article on 5ensesmag.com.
Italian Sausage, Bean and Greens Soup
Chef Molly Beverly
Makes 12 cups
2 links or 1/2-pound hot Italian sausage (pork, turkey, Field Roast plant-based)
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 large cloves garlic
1 large onion
6-1/2 cups water, including bean juice
1 pound red or yellow potatoes or 1-1/2 pounds zucchini/summer squash
2-3 cups cooked or canned beans (white navy beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans, black beans, lentils)
1 big bunch kale, Swiss chard, collard greens or 1 head of cabbage
Optional fresh herbs: 1 sprig of any or each: fresh oregano, rosemary, sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Optional garnish: 3/4 cup grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
Peel and slice sausages. Mince garlic. Chop onion (about 3 cups). Rough-cut potatoes or zucchini in 1-1/2” rough-cut pieces. Thinly slice greens (3-4 cups packed). Drain the beans and save the liquid. Substitute this for some of the water you will be adding later. Lay out all ingredients on a baking sheet in separate piles.
Heat a 1-gallon (or larger) pot over medium heat. Add sausage and stir until browned. Add onions and garlic, a big pinch of pepper, and optional fresh herbs. Stir regularly until nicely browned. Watch carefully and avoid burning.
Add water (including any bean juice you have saved) and the potatoes or zucchini. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until everything is tender. Add the greens and beans. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and remove herb sprigs if you used them. Season to taste with salt, pepper and red chili flakes. Serve garnished with grated cheese (optional).
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.