Last night I made dinner to bring to my friend Chrystal. She and her hubby just had a beautiful baby! I wasn’t planning to blog about it, but since I made extra for our dinner and since it was SO totally yummy (and since I haven’t had time to write the posts I’d been planning… sorry), I thought I’d do a quick post with the recipe.
You can do this sort of soup a million different ways, adding or subtracting things as you go. In fact, I added a few more pantry items to our soup when we ate it than I’d added to Chrystal’s soup when I brought it over; I’ve updated the recipe as such. I’ve had white bean and sausage soup a lot of places, but this recipe was something I came up with a few years back. Parts of it are a riff on Italian Wedding Soup, but it’s not like any recipe for that soup I’ve ever seen. It’s a nice light-tasting soup, but it’s a good meal in itself!
If I’m making a big pot of soup, I try to pick up a whole chicken at the grocery store and make my own stock. The night before (or early in the day, if you’ve got time), I cut up the chicken and toss it in a pot of water. I used about 5 gallons of water, a tablespoon of light salt, a small onion (halved, not cut – and with the brown peel still on, since it actually helps the broth take on a nice golden color), a handful of baby carrots, two stalks of celery (also pretty much whole), and three or four whole cloves of garlic with a pinch of pepper and herbs. The pot should be on a relatively low heat – it should steam, but there should be NO BUBBLES! Let it go for an hour to an hour and a half.
Remove the chicken pieces and let them cool, and remove all the vegetables (throw them away or compost them; they’ve done all they can). Bring the pot up to a rolling boil and let the liquid reduce for about 20 minutes before skimming and cooling.
I do this step the night before if I can because if you let the whole thing cool in the fridge you can skim a lot of the fat off the top of the pan. It’s not mandatory to do so, but I am not a big fan of greasy-tasting broth, so I like to.
I also like to make my own sausage meatballs (although you can use packaged sausage; I like the sweet Italian from Whole Foods). It’s super-easy to do and you can control what goes into it. I use one package of ground turkey from the supermarket (it’s about a pound) and some ground herbs. I don’t really have a recipe – I just throw things in until it feels and smells good – but I think it’s about 2 teaspoons each of dehydrated garlic, lemon pepper, basil, and parsley, with a pinch of paprika. To that, I add an egg and a quarter cup of panko breadcrumbs (I find that using them helps keep the meatballs from being heavy). For soup, I shape the meatballs into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces so that they’re bite-sized.
The next day, assemble your soup:
- 4 gallons of chicken broth or stock (Pacific Organics makes a really good chickeny-tasting broth that has a lot less salt than other broths; since there’s a lot of flavor in the ingredients, you don’t really want the broth salty)
- 1 small onion, cut into small pieces
- 1 1/2 ribs celery, cut into small pieces
- 2 medium carrots, cut into small pieces (or a good handful of baby carrots!)
- 1 medium parsnip, cut into small pieces
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, cut into very small pieces
- 1 package of small pasta (anything bite-sized – I usually use about 6 servings’ worth and I like orzo or orichiette, but you can really use any shape that’s fun)
- The meatballs made above, or 3-4 links of your favorite sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 cans of white beans, rinsed and drained (I’ve cooked dry beans once for this purpose but really it’s a pain; don’t forget to rinse them really well, though!)
- Some of the chicken you poached in the broth, shredded
- 2 small tomatoes, cut up (or a can of good diced tomatoes, drained)
- two or three bunches of basil, chiffonade (I like adding fresh parsley if I’ve got it, too; or if you prefer you can use any combination of those herbs and spinach or kale)
- Fresh lemon juice
- a nice sprinkling of fresh parmesan cheese
First, bring the broth up to a simmer. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and parsnip and cook about 10-15 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until there are about 5 minutes left (since every type of pasta has a different cooking time, you’ll need to check your own). Add the meatballs or sausage and cook another 5 minutes. The meatballs will float to the top.
In the bowls you’ll be eating from, add some cooked chicken, beans, and tomatoes. Pour the soup over the top. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and sprinkle your leafy greens over the top. Top with parmesan cheese! Stir before taking a big bite, but not until after you’ve taken a photo because it’s just too pretty!
I like how all the flavors act subtlely together, and how versatile this soup is (don’t have tomatoes? don’t use them! don’t like basil? use spinach instead! don’t like beans? leave them out!). The tiny bit of lemon juice helps brighten the whole thing up – and trust me, it doesn’t taste lemony. Using a mild broth (chicken-flavored rather than salty) helps each of the different components of the soup stand out on its own, and using ingredients that play nicely together helps the flavors come together and create a completely new dish. Since you’re pouring the hot broth over the prepared ingredients (you could also, in theory, cook the meatballs and pasta separately too), you’re able to control the amounts of each of the ingredients you have in your bowl – and customize them for a picky palate.
Mmmm… And now I’m hungry, and wishing I had a big bowl in front of me!
Edited to add: Apparently I forgot I made a variation on this soup and posted it back in May. Oh well, you can see how awesome it is, that I make it often and in different ways!