Thursday, February 24, 2011

White Bean Soup for Another Rainy Day

I'm a much neater cook in someone else's kitchen. Especially when it's a professional kitchen, complete with a generous supply of clean towels, sharp knives, and plastic storage buckets. (Even when all the kitchen dishes have to be washed by hand.)

It's actually quite relaxing, I find, to cook for a larger group when you have the right tools for the job. Today at the Headlands, where I'm helping out for the next week while a small group of artists does a 2-week special residency (in preparation for my actual kitchen internship there this summer & fall) my job was soup for lunch, made with white bean, fennel, and kale, a kind of pasta-less minestrone.

It was very easy and pleasant to do, with a spacious expanse of clean counter on which to dice and chop, plus the elbow room of an eight-burner stove. And as it turned out, quite a hit, if I say so myself! So, here's a nourishing veggie soup for a chilly, rainy day--I leave the amounts up to you, depending on how many people you're cooking for, and keeping in mind that it's impossible to make a small amount of bean soup. And why would you want to, when it only gets better the next day around?

White Bean, Fennel & Kale Soup
Good for using up the dregs of your winter CSA box
What you need: Olive oil; fennel bulb(s); spring onions; tomato paste; white wine or vermouth; white wine vinegar; vegetable stock; cooked white beans; dino kale (cavalo nero); fresh sage, parsley, oregano; chile flakes; some grated hard cheese for serving

In a nice big pot, heat up some olive oil. Saute some chopped fennel bulb(s), sprinkled with salt, until soft and beginning to caramelize. Let it go slowly, stirring frequently, to bring out the sweetness. Add about half as much scallion/green onions, chopped, and cook until it's all soft and getting a little brown here and there. Add a few good squirts of tomato paste, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Deglaze the pan with a good glug of white wine and a spoonful of white wine, champagne, or cider vinegar. Cook, stirring, until liquid is almost evaporated and everything looks kind of jammy.

Add enough vegetable stock to make everything float. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until flavors have melded. Add some cooked white beans, a little salt and chile flakes, and some chopped fresh sage, and continue simmering for another 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. 10 minutes before serving, add some finely shredded dino kale. Simmer until kale is tender. Add some minced fresh parsley and oregano. Taste again for seasoning. Top with a generous swirl of olive oil (a little fat at the last minute helps relieve the austerity of a purely vegetarian soup). Serve with some grated hard cheese (dry Jack, asiago, grana, parmesan) and a sprinkle of red chile flakes.


Of course, you could make this with chicken stock, or saute a little pancetta in with the fennel. Yesterday, when we made a slightly Indian-inflected (turmeric, cumin, coriander) vegetarian lentil soup for lunch, the artists ate it straight (with yogurt and scallions) and all the cooks took a bite, then turned to the fridge to forage for the leftover sausage they knew was in there. They each broke up some cold sausage in their bowl, added hot sauce, and then ate happily. So, everything's better w/ sausage and a squirt of Sriracha sauce! At least lentil soup is. (I ate mine plain, and it was still pretty darn good.)

As a perk, today I got to take home not only soup but a plateful of last night's dinner: roast chicken, potato-fennel mash, sauteed kale, lovely mushrooms and a bit of tempeh. Plus, even more importantly, dinner for the goats: a big paper-bagful of the day's veggie scraps, including carrot peelings, parsley stems, and all the not-ready-for-prime-time mustard greens. (This on top of the compost-ready leftovers--carrot tops, old chard, withering fennel--I'd already begged from the kind folks at County Line & Full Belly Farms at the Marin Farmers' Market that morning.)

The goats, like a couple of haughty teenagers, were a wee bit disdainful of all those greens, but the chickens were STOKED. Peck, peck, peck, chomp! The goats preferred their hay, and I spent some minutes simply watching them munch inside their little stable as the rain pattered down. Earlier that day, I'd come down to check on the group and give out a little hay--a redundant occupation, given that the goats have figured out how to break into their hay bin, the plastic doors of which are now semi-detached and hanging open, no matter how I try to prop them up & block them shut.

As is my wont, I did a quick head count of the chickens: 6, when there should be 7. But no stray feathers, nothing out of place. Suddenly, a volley of crowing, coming from the vicinity of the hay bin. Not behind the bin, but yes, inside it, where one of the Buff Orpingtons had snuggled down in the sweet alfalfa and laid a warm brown egg.

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