Spring Soup a la Dark Days

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OK, the Dark Days Challenge is over now that we’ve made our way to the Spring Equinox and beyond, but in the spirit of those inventive and inspiring cooks, I offer you my Spring Soup.

Spring in a Bowl

One of the many things I have left over from the Dark Days is a chest cold that will not give up and go away. This morning I was reading in the new issue of Clean Eating about some recent research from UCLA on the anti-inflammatory effect of Brassicas on the respiratory tract.  Kale is a Brassica and there is kale in the Dirt to Dinner garden pretty much year round. I also had some nice chicken stock waiting for a good use. A delicious and curative soup began to simmer in the back of my mind. A quick tour through the garden turned up beautifully red Cincinnati Market radishes, Yellowstone carrots, a few small Nantes carrots, celery, Italian parsley, Tokyo Market turnips, a parsnip that looked a bit worse for wear and plenty of broad-leafed kale.

I saved half of the radishes for a braise I have been waiting to try with them, chopped up the rest and sautéed them in olive oil with an onion, a tablespoon of garlic and everything but the kale. When the vegetables were tender, I added the stock, turned up the heat a bit and quickly finished cleaning and chopping the kale. As soon as the stock was at a healthy simmer, I tossed in the kale and covered the pot for three minutes while I dug out the food processor.

With the kale wilted but still a nice bright green, I turned the soup down to Low and processed batches of it in the food processor until it was a lot smoother, but still a bit chunky. If you want more of a cream of kale soup, process until smooth. The finished product called out to me for a dusting of nice Parmesan. Sadly, not local, but I have to admit it was delicious. A dash of hot pepper might be tasty. I plan to try that in my next bowl. Enjoy!

Dark Days Dining – Passing the Husband Test

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My husband has declared my most recent creation straight out of the garden to be, “The perfect vegetable soup.” (You can see why I keep him around.) But the secret was actually a little trick I borrowed from his mother.

Vegetable Soup

The "Perfect" Vegetable Soup

I took my harvesting basket and a knife into the garden to see what I could find. We have dozens of broccoli shoots on plants I would have pulled out after the first head if the folks at Full Circle Farm hadn’t taught us better during our volunteer work day this winter. There’s also a nice crop of snap peas and snow peas–if you happen to find a time to pick them when the kids aren’t in the garden. ;-) I found beets, rutabagas, turnips and three or four different kinds of carrots. I am especially partial to the yellow ones in my winter cooking. They are a bright spot in the bowl that is surprisingly cheering this time of year. I also found plenty of oregano, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary. And celery loves the wet weather we’ve been having.

I started with the traditional olive oil, carrots, onions and celery in the big stock pot and added in the rest of the root vegetables as I chopped. I also had some potatoes that needed to be used and I tossed in some sweet potato, trying not to waste that either. When the vegetables started to soften, I added in some chopped garlic. A few minutes later, I added two cups of chopped tomatoes, with the juice, half a cup of cooked kidney beans, the herbs, salt, pepper and four cups of chicken stock.

I let that simmer for half an hour while I cleaned and prepped the peas, broccoli and greens. Some of my broccoli plants are perfectly clean and healthy, but some of the flowerettes I have been picking are over-run with aphids, requiring a good wash and even a quick soak in salt water to clean them. I need to get out there with some soap and then go buy the kids a tub or two of ladybugs. ;-)

After the flavors had settled a bit, I brought the soup to a low boil and added in the rest of the vegetables and covered the pot for two minutes. But it still tasted too tomato-y. It was a bit harsh like Summer Sauce when you haven’t cooked it down yet. This is where my mother-in-law comes in. I consult with her on all culinary mysteries. She told me to slowly add some more herbs and red wine, tasting in between each addition until the soup was more balanced. Well, certainly never noticed *that* on the back of a Campbell’s label. I had a nice Cabernet in the cupboard that served well.  Three pours and some oregano later, I rested the soup overnight in the refrigerator.

And then I fed it to my husband. The same husband who, when presented with my recent homemade creamed chicory, burst out with, “That is truly awful!” Luckily the vegetable soup went over better. He liked it, Hey Mikey!

Dark Days Dinner – A Variation on White Bean and Kale Soup

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Carrots, turnips & herbsOK, by the time I was done with it, my version of this soup was quite nearly a stew, but it was still yummy. Four different recipes for a White Bean & Kale Soup were swirling around in my head when I went into the garden to see what I could find. This one looked especially appealing but unfortunately I didn’t have all the ingredients.

The ‘Dinosaur‘ or ‘Covolo Laciniato Nero Di Toscana Precoce‘ kale was easy. It loves this kind of winter weather and puts out dozens of long, dark green fingers from a tall central spike. My ‘Tokyo Market‘ turnips surprised me with fat white globes sitting atop the soil with nothing but their skinny taproots in the ground. And, this year at least, we finally have carrots! Last year by this time they had all been eaten, but we have 12 square-feet of carrots and parsnips still in the ground waiting for a recipe like this. The rosemary bushes are also content to grow straight through the winter here, so I pulled off a tender branch to flavor my vegetable stash.

Inside I had been soaking the ‘Jacob’s Cattle‘ beans we grew over the summer. They were the closest thing to a white been that I had. This year I plan to grow Cannellini and at least one other White Bean and Kale Soupwhite variety, but for now, we’re making do with what’s on hand. Might need to call this one “Pink Bean & Kale.”

I sautéed an onion in olive oil for a few minutes then added the carrots and turnips. While the vegetables were softening, I stemmed the kale and chopped it fairly fine. I also cut up some nice chicken Italian sausage with the perfect amount of fennel in it that just squeaked over the 100 mile Dark Days Challenge line in time to join us for this meal. I tossed the sausage and kale with the softened vegetables and added the chopped rosemary leaves. As soon as the kale started to brighten and wilt, I added in the now cooked beans and simmered the whole concoction on low for about an hour to marry the flavors some.

Before serving, I added fresh ground pepper and my husband insisted on dusting his bowl with Parmesan as he would with Minestrone. The whole family approved, which was a nice surprise as I had been expecting the little one to turn her nose up at the fenneled Italian sausage. Instead, I caught her scooping some out of my bowl when I wasn’t looking!