Thursday, November 11, 2010

White Bean & Kale Soup topped with Crispy Turkey Bacon and Shredded Parmesan Cheese

This is the third soup I've made in the past week. While I have openly confessed to being a soup girl, it's truly not something I always plan to make... necessarily. One could easily think that my penchant for soups might have something to do with the color of the sky, the feel of the air, or the fleeting nature of daylight this time of year. If so, then gray, damp, and oh-too-quick would be the reasons for this most recent trifecta of soups.

The far more simple explanation, and somewhat less-than-dramatic truth, is that I just... them. From September through the end of April (or May), soups are a constant to be expected in our home. My family has put up with this for years; happy with the outcome, or simply happy that someone is feeding them. In either case, it has worked well for all involved.

This particular soup was actually made two nights in a row! The first night for us... and the second night as a little takeaway dinner for some friends (so... technically that's four soups).

I love the fact that this soup comes together so quickly, is super tasty... and uses an entire bunch of my new favorite super food: kale. While I have to admit that it took awhile to warm up to this mega-nutritious leafy green, I found that a little time spent with prep and seasoning can make all the difference in taming its somewhat characteristically bitter behavior.

Seasoning is also important in working with white beans but for an entirely different reason: they can be a bit bland if not seasoned up correctly. Yet they're one of those legumes that shine when paired with the right partners... namely, garlic and onions! Cannellinis are particularly good in this soup as they hold their structure better than some of the smaller white beans.

Since many of my soups are kind of UN-recipes... a little of this and a little of that... here are the basic steps to getting this particular one on the table (for four, approximate one- to two-cup servings).

I started with several slices of turkey bacon... about six to eight. Dice the strips into small pieces (about a half-inch in size) and drop them into a large stock pot set over medium high heat. Cook the turkey until crisp, about five minutes or so, and then pull it aside to wait until it's time to plate your meal. (If you need a little help to keep the turkey bacon from sticking as it crisps up, drizzle in a little olive oil.) The benefit of starting with the turkey bacon is you kind of season your pot with a little flavor starter for your soup.

To begin your soup, add a little olive oil (about three tablespoons) to the leftover drippings in your pot. Drop in some carrots (one large, diced) and some onion (one medium, diced). As you sauté these veggies, all the turkey bacon seasoning that crusted the bottom of your pot will get pulled into the mix. Once your onions have softened, drop in two cloves of chopped garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or so.

Next, add in your chopped lacinato kale (an entire bunch... tough spines and stems removed and discarded) and a generous sprinkling of salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. It might seem like a lot of greens at first but they wilt down very quickly to a reasonable portion. Once this happens, and before you add any stock or beans, taste your veggie medley and adjust the seasoning, as needed. Getting the seasoning right at this point is important.

Then add in about three cups of vegetable stock (approximately three-quarters of a 32-ounce carton of stock). You'll use the remaining stock to purée a portion of your white beans so just hold it aside. And... again... taste and season. (I used a low-sodium stock so additional seasoning was necessary. The good thing is YOU control it.)

Next, you'll prep and add your white beans. You'll need three cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained. Take approximately one-third of your beans and pop them into a blender, along with the vegetable stock you reserved earlier (about a cup) and give them a whirl until they are completely puréed. Add puréed beans to your pot. (If some remain in your blender, just add a bit of water to loosen it up and toss the whole lot of it into your pot.)

Then, add one cube (or packet) of condensed chicken bouillon (a one cup portion without adding any additional water). Trust me... it adds that little extra bit of flavor that makes a true difference in the end. Again, taste your soup to see if you need to add any additional seasoning, or liquid. If you are good to go in the flavor department, drop in your remaining rinsed and drained whole beans. Lower the heat on your pot and let your soup simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, just long enough to warm through and let the flavors meld a bit.

If desired, add a scant bit (one tablespoon, or less) of red wine vinegar at the very end. I find that this brightens the flavor ever so slightly.

Ladle your soup into bowls and top with crispy turkey bacon and shredded parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

If you are lucky enough to have any leftovers for the next day, you may need to add some additional vegetable stock as the soup will thicken a bit overnight. And if the stars don't happen to align to allow for extras... or the sky is gray, blue, or any other shade in the entire kaleidoscope of possibilities, then simply make another pot.

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