It’s over, thank goodness. Some years I’m all Christmas cheer, but this year I just couldn’t get into it for some reason. Because I’m new in town and don’t know when they pick up Christmas trees (and since we’ve had 50-75 mph winds the past three days) I compromised by taking all the ornaments off the tree and putting them away, but I left the tree, with its white lights, in the living room. It was sort of a Charlie Brown tree to begin with (but once you’ve walked into the Round Barn at the fairground, you’re pretty much committed to buying a tree from our local Boy Scouts who went out into the woods and cut them down) and I think it actually looks better bare …
I’ve been feeling sort of kludgy after all this holiday cheer, and thus, when I was in the store yesterday, the kale suddenly looked like just the thing. I’m not normally a big fan of kale, but there it was, all dark green and crinkly and it seemed nearly to wink with the promise of health and well being. So I made a batch of kale and white bean soup. It’s one of those slow all-day kinds of soups that fill your house with the rich scent of cooking, a scent that seems like it alone can repel the howling winds that swirl out of the Absarokas. Here’s the recipe (which I adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant) :
Step One: The Beans
(If you use canned beans, you can skip this step altogether, but I don’t like the tinny taste or mushy texture of canned beans, and it’s not hard to cook your own).
In a big pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer until tender:
2 cups small white beans
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 big cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
pinch of salt
water to cover the beans by at least 2 inches
Step Two: the sofrito
1 onion, chopped
1 big carrot, chopped
1 heart of celery, with leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1tsp. dried)
3-4 tbsp olive oil
When the beans are tender, saute the chopped vegetables and spices until the onions just begin to turn brown around the edges. You want to concentrate the flavors of the vegetables, so err on the side of overcooking, rather than undercooking. When the vegetables are colored, add to soup pot with beans. Check the water level, you’ll want it to be pretty soupy still. If needed, add more water. Cook on very low heat until about 45 minutes before you are ready to eat.
Step three: finishing the soup
1 bunch kale, rinsed well, stripped of tough central veins, and chopped
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
juice of 1/2 lemon
4-5 cloves garlic
When it’s getting close to dinner time, add the kale to the soup and stir it in. (If the soup has cooked down to just beans, you’ll want to add more water and bring to a simmer before adding the kale.) Bring the heat up a little to a vigorous simmer, and cook the kale for at least 1/2 hour until tender. When the kale has cooked, mix the lemon juice and cornmeal together, and stir into the soup. Cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring often. This will thicken the soup a little and give it a really nice yellow color. While the cornmeal is cooking, add the garlic to the soup — I used a garlic press because it’s easy, but if you want to chop it very fine, that would work as well. What you want is a nice spike of garlicky flavor at the end of the cooking process.
Ladle the soup into wide plates and top with freshly ground parmesan cheese. Eat with some nice bread (I had some of the sourdough I’ve been working on, but more about that later) and a green salad and you’ll feel virtuous and clean again after all that holiday excess. This serves a lot of people, six to eight, although you can freeze the leftovers. Be careful when reheating this soup as re-boiling the kale will render it unpleasanlty cabbagy — I reccommend heating up one bowl at a time for a nice midweek lunch in the microwave.