Friday, February 4, 2011

Weathering the storm

Bean and roasted garlic soup with kale and potatoes
As you may have heard, a massive snowstorm hit the Midwest a few days ago. It got pretty wild in Chicago--people had to abandon their cars all along Lake Shore Drive, thousands lost power,  and parts of the city got buried in over two feet of snow. Fortunately, all that the storm meant for me was that classes were cancelled. Snow Day(s)!
After the storm
Being a grad student, I really shouldn't have had too much to be excited about. Sure, I have classes, but I spend most of my time at home anyway, preparing for class--reading articles, making margin notes, pulling at my hair in frustration--and so, I really should have gone on just doing those things. Of course, I didn't quite manage that. The first of my two consecutive snow days, at  least, involved the couch, a lot of stove-top popcorn, and The Sopranos. I also made some soup/stew.
This was something I dreamed up sometime over the holidays when my boyfriend and I were visiting each of our families together. Neither family has a very broad conception of what to feed us vegetarian kids, and there was an endless succession of cakes and pies (we'd polish off my mom's apple pie, and then my grandmother would be ready with a pie of her own). As a result, I started thinking about how nice it would be to be back at home with a simple soup--maybe something loaded with ribbons of kale, creamy beans, and chunks of potato--just something wintry, hearty, and nutritious.
I did in fact make a version of this soup the week I got home, but the both of us agreed that it was missing something. With the storm still howling outside on Wednesday morning, I decided to give it another try. This time, I started with slivers of onion slowly cooked to a rich, dark hue. In the same pot, I then simmered a half-pound of dried beans (a mix of cannellini and cranberry) in the oven, with two bulbs of garlic roasting alongside. Finally, when the beans were tender, in went the roasted garlic, some sauted kale, chunked potatoes, and the caramelized onions.
The soup was good that first day--just what we wanted as the cold set in. But two days later, served as a stew (I didn't add quite as much water and let it simmer on the stove for about 15 minutes) over a few lemon slices, it was just perfect. The onions and roasted garlic cooked together had made the broth thick and unctuous, and the beans and potatoes at that point had had a chance to soak it in. The kale was tender and had lost much of its bitter edge. And the added lemon made everything else sing.
Admittedly, there are a lot of steps to this soup/stew. But if you ever find yourself with a few spare hours, especially if you expect a storm to blow in, remember this stew as something to weather the storm and keep warm with.

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup with Kale and Potatoes
Note: As I said, we liked this best as a stew a couple of days later. You will have to add some water to the leftovers when you reheat them since the potatoes absorb liquid--just add a little less water and simmer for a little longer (10 minutes) to serve it as a stew. Cannellinis would be my bean of choice here, but any mild bean should do--I supplemented with some cranberry beans this time around. Finally, if you don't have an ovenproof pot, you can cook your beans over the stove. After they come to a boil, cover them, turn the heat down to low, and let them simmer gently. I used the oven since I had to roast the garlic anyway. If you're baking something at 350 or 375 degrees F the day before you make this, you can always roast the garlic then and then do your beans on the stove top. Pretty much any of the prep (beans, kale, potatoes) can be done a day in advance.

1/2 lb of dried beans (preferably cannellini), sorted and soaked overnight
2-3 medium onions, thinly sliced (from pole to pole)
olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic + 1 clove
1 large sprig of thyme
3/4 lb potatoes (preferably yellow-fleshed), peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
half a bunch of kale (7-10 medium leaves), stems discard and chopped into thin ribbons cross-wise
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
half a lemon, cut into thin slices

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees F. Heat olive oil (about 2 tablespoons to begin with--add more if necessary) over medium-low heat in a 4-quart, ovenproof pot. Add onions to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply caramelized (about 30 minutes). Don't worry if bits stick to the bottom of the pan--you'll be rescuing all that flavour later.
Meanwhile, cut about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch off the tops of the bulbs of garlic, just so that most of the cloves are exposed. Set the bulbs on a square of aluminum foil, drizzle them with olive oil, and then wrap them securely in the foil.
Remove onions from pot and set aside. Drain the beans. With the pot still over the flame, add the beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch. While the water goes in, put your wooden spoon to good work and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the sprig of thyme to the beans. Bring the beans to a boil, cover, and pop them into the oven along with the garlic. Cooking times vary between varieties of beans, check after the first hour and then every half-hour after that. 
The garlic should done in about an hour--the exposed tips should be a deep, golden brown, similar to that of the caramelized onions. Remove the garlic from the oven and unwrap it. When cool enough to handle, carefully squeeze the roasted pulp out from the exposed tips into a small bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a medium pot, cover the potatoes in water, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Cover with the lid slightly askew and simmer until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set aside.
In the same pot, heat up a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Mince the remaining clove of garlic and add it to the oil along with the red pepper flakes. Saute for about a minute, turn up the flame to medium, and add the chopped kale. Wilt kale, season with salt, and continue to saute until somewhat tender, 7 to 10 minutes.
When the beans are ready, remove the thyme stem and return them to the stovetop. Combine the kale, potatoes, garlic, and onions with the beans. Add enough water to barely cover. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavours to meld.
Put one or two lemon slices into the bottom of each bowl and serve soup over top when ready.
Serves six.

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