You can’t go wrong with hearty soups and stews in winter. They make any snowfall feel like the best of snow days, they restore your body and relax your mind, and they simply and deliciously warm you up from the inside out. My family doesn’t eat pork all the time. But when we come across a really good spicy pork sausage, we immediately find a big soup pot to put it in. Allowing the thick coins to soften and infuse a light broth with their rich, spicy, fatty goodness can change your whole outlook on cooking in winter. There must be a group of people out there who have devised recipes that showcase turkey and chicken sausage, but this soup is not one of those recipes. Furthermore, I am not one of those people. The fat and spice is what gives peasant-like soups their umph. It’s why you find yourself leaning in over the bowl and breathing in deep. And fat certainly puts the soul in good ol’ chicken soup.
In general, recipes for “peasant soups” are either impossibly simple (what do you mean the broth is just water?!) or so tedious to make that you couldn’t imagine how people ever got anything else done (let it simmer for 9 hours?!). It’s good to keep in mind these simple origins when making soup. For those soups with few ingredients, remember that many times only a scrap of meat or the skins of vegetables were used to flavor the broth. And for the more complex soups, recipes were born out of a time when the soup pot was always boiling, and all sorts of tidbits were thrown in until a base was formed with which to make soup.
In the spirit of peasant soups, don’t fuss over this recipe. In fact, don’t go out in search of the ingredients. Instead, allow this recipe and others like it to come to your table on their own fruition. Do like I do. Go buy yourself some excellent, juicy, spicy pork sausage. You’ll find that once you have sausages in your grip, the tidbits and leftover ingredients just tend to fall out of the pantry and into the pot. You’ll be surprised by how frequently you come across a can of beans, a few tomatoes, the last glass of a good wine, and some leftover chicken stock. So stay warm and happy hunting.
P.S. Using Reggiano as a garnish is no short of a revelation for me. The nutty, saltiness of the cheese melts into gooey globs inside of the bowl, enhancing everything it comes in contact with. Sometimes garnishes go over the top, or just exist all for show. Not here. So do yourself a favor, don’t skip this step. Until I’m in the actual poor house, I’ll be stashing away a hunk of good reggiano to celebrate times like these.
Spicy Tuscan soup
10 – 12 servings (5 Matt servings)
2 spicy Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish pork sausages (e.g. Andouille, Linguiça, chouriço, or Chorizo), raw or cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 large onion (about 3 cups), peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic (about 2 tablespoons), thinly sliced
3 carrots (about 2 cups), washed, peeled, and diced
3 stalks celery (about 2 cups), washed and sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste (or a few tomatoes)
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or sage, rosemary, or thyme)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)
4 cups cold water
3 bunches of cooking greens (e.g. collard, kale, chard), washed, de-stemed and coarse chiffonade
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or 1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans or other less waxy beans, cooked until tender)
Parmigiano Reggiano , shaved with a vegetable peeler for garnish (or other salty, nutty, hard cheese)
If the sausage is raw, place in the frying pan and turn on to medium high. Cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees, about 10 minutes, turning at least once. Remove and let sit 5 minutes. Cut into 1/4 inch rounds. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed four to six quart stock pot, heat the olive oil on medium. Once hot, add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and saute until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, oregano, black pepper, and saute 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, wine (if using), and water, and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer and add in the cooking greens and salt. Simmer covered until the greens are just tender, 10-15 minutes (depending on the green). Add in the sausage, bean, salt, and simmer for 5 minutes more, until the sausage has added flavor and fat to the soup. Adjust seasonings. When serving, garnish with large shavings of reggiano and allow to melt before eating. Serve with some crusty bread. Enjoy!