Sunday, June 1, 2008
Although I live in a small apartment, I manage to be an active gardener. I have some small borders of perennial flowers in the front and back of the building, and a container garden that stretches about 2/3 the length of the yard in the back. I've mulched around the containers for a couple of years, and last year decided to plant in the ground surrounding the containers. I ended up with an interesting, multilevel collection of flowers and vegetable plants that I harvested and then let go to seed. As I watched the volunteer seedlings just starting to come up early in the spring, as well as planting the beginnings of this year's attempt at a crop of salad greens and peas, I also happily admired the robust development of a lone kale plant. I harvested a healthy bunch of it one Sunday and made a large pot of soup. Like this:
Kale and Cannelini soup with Fennel
2 onions, one large and one small
3 stalks celery
1 whole head of garlic
2 fennel bulbs (finocchio, or often called anise)
1 pound of cannelini beans, dried
(sort, rinse, cover with water, boil for 2 min. then turn off heat and soak one hour. Drain, rinse if you like, cook until done. The cannellinis cooked pretty fast, half an hour or so.)
1 bunch of kale (lacking this, swiss chard would be lovely)
juice of 1 lemon
3 quarts HOT liquid ( you could use hot stock, maybe toss in some wine--if you do, cook off the alcohol first, then add it hot. I used plain boiling water and then added about 1/2 cup? of Bragg's liquid aminos. An unromantically named product which makes soup delicious and nutritious with little or no need for extra salt. Like vegetarian bouillon in a bottle. Definitely better than it sounds...)
To begin, chop all of the vegetables. Heat some olive oil in a large cast iron skillet if you have one, or in the soup pot itself if the bottom is heavy enough to let you slowly cook the onions and the basic soup vegetables without scorching or browning too much. I usually use my cast iron skillet to begin, and then transfer the contents to a soup pot, adding the hot liquid, cooked beans and or grains, and any tender vegetables like leafy greens or green beans. That said, begin with the onions, and saute over a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the celery, and cook until it's heated through, and the color begins to deepen. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the pan of vegetables cooking through the addition of cold vegetable ingredients, but not so high as to scorch them. Our goal is an even sort of medium sautee, active cooking but slow enough to soften and carmelize our vegetables a bit, particularly the onion, celery, carrot combo. Add the carrots, heat through, then add the fennel bulb. Cook until the carrots and fennel are softening.
"But what do we do with the garlic?", you ask. Well, I feel that it can be added at any stage in the sauteeing process that you prefer. When I made this soup, I added it after the celery so it would have time to sautee in the oil, but wouldn't stick and burn while the onions carmelize. That's what I do.
So, at this point, do what I described earlier, and have your stock/ liquids hot and standing by, preferably in your large soup pot! Combine sauteed vegetables, cooked beans, and chopped kale, then bring to a simmer. You only need to simmer it to combine the ingredients and make sure everything is thoroughly cooked. Don't boil the soup if you can avoid it, but it really won't be the end of the world if you do.
Add the lemon juice (more to taste if you like), check the salt, and add some black pepper. Eat it now or later, or now AND later, more likely. It will be good now, and better later. That's the nature of soup.
This soup would be great with a variety of vegetable and bean substitutions: swiss chard and navy beans; spinach and chickpeas; collard greens and white northern beans! Try zucchini added at the end of the sautee process, or pole beans, or both. If you lack the fennel bulb, increase the celery and carrots. A person could spin this basic light brothy soup into a variety of summer and fall soups. Use potatoes instead of beans! Toss in a bay leaf or two with the onions at the beginning, and a handful of fresh basil at the end. The possibilities are truly endless........
Our featured Strange Cookie: the fennel bulb. These are made from whole wheat sugar cookie dough (see Basic Rolled Cookie recipe). I really like the minimalist approach with the icing. I'm very fond of this batch of cookies. Oh yeah, and they were delicious!