I love this time of year. I love my first batch of sausage/bean/green whatever for the autumn. Of course, as the weeks progress, the greens will get better and better after hard frosts and everything, but I can never wait that long. As soon as I see lovely greens, I have to snatch them up.
I received some Japanese mustard in my CSA box, along with a nice little bundle of fennel fronds. After I stopped at Toad Hill Organics and saw the amazing red mustard greens and tender, young purple kale, a recipe was beginning to form. A quick stop to Sommerset Herbs for their delicious sweet paprika peppers, a stop at Blues Creek for sweet Italian sausage, and I was in business. You could make this recipe even better by using some of North Market Poultry and Game's gelatinous chicken stock.
This soup is great for the beginning of Autumn - actually, for the rest of the winter. I make something similar to this at least once a year, and more frequently as we get into great greens season. As the fall progresses and the greens become tougher, I'll substitute a ham hock for the sausage, and cook the greens for hours, but this time of year, you can bring this soup together in under an hour - even shorter, but I like to let things simmer after everything is ready, just to concentrate the flavors. This soup was a winner at Chez Widow - maybe even my best sausage/bean/green recipe yet - Husband and I consumed the entire pot (8 bowls) over the course of a lazy Sunday, where it served as lunch, dinner, and snack. Fortunately, it's pretty good for you, what with all the beans and greens. Greens are really, really good for you, so you should eat some today. Being covered in porky goodness makes everything edible, so if you're scared, this is a good starter recipe. Because you are going to add salted pasta water to the soup, use restraint with seasoning. I didn't salt until the very end.
Sausage & Butter Bean Soup with Greens and Pasta - makes 8 servings
6 ounces small, "soup" pasta, such as tubetti, or these little rings I picked up at Trader Joe's recently
one pound bulk sweet Italian sausage, or 4 links
one medium red onion, cut into medium dice
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 sweet paprika peppers, cut into 1/2" chunks, or 2 red bell peppers
red pepper flakes
three large bunches greens - I like a variety - for this recipe, tender purple kale, red mustard (a delightfully hot variety), and Japanese mustard, any thick stems removed, large leaves torn in half, washed
2 19 ounce cans butter beans, drained
4 cups good quality chicken stock
4 cups pasta water
chunk of Parmesan rind (optional - I have a lot of these in my freezer, but if you don't have any, it's okay. But you might think about starting to collect them)
One small bunch fennel fronds (optional), roughly chopped
Parmesan for grating
Cook the pasta in well-salted water for 3 minutes less than recommended on the package and drain, reserving 4 cups of the water for using later (this provides a nice viscosity to the soup; if you are making this recipe with pasta, add the beans with their liquid, which will do the same thing). Rinse the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat and drizzle in a little olive oil. Add the sausage and brown. When the sausage is brown, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pan, turning the heat down a little, and sweat the onions until they are soft, about 7 minutes, and then add the sliced garlic and the red peppers - turn the heat down if necessary to avoid burning the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the garlic is soft. If the pan becomes dry, add a little sausage back in. When the garlic is soft, add all of the sausage back in, coat with a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper about about 1 tbsp red pepper flakes and stir. Add the greens and stir as they wilt. Now, I used some kale, which takes longer to cook, so I added it to the pan, stirred everything around, put the lid on and turned the heat to low, and then allowed everything to steam for 10 minutes, and then added the rest of the greens and repeated. If you are only using one variety of greens, or if all of your greens are tender, add them all at once - they will wilt significantly - stir, cover, turn the heat to low, and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and add the beans. Stir to coat everything in the sausage juices.
Add the stock and Parmesan rinds and water and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium or slightly over, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced by a few cups. Add the fennel fronds, remove the Parm rinds and taste to correct seasoning. Ladle into bowls and serve with black pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. YUM.