Sausage, White Bean and Kale Soup


This recipe is adapted from something I saw in Cooking Light Magazine (March 2011).  Winter is STILL alive and well in Nashville, but I’m growing tired of heavy cold-weather soups. So I was searching for something light and healthy but substantial enough for a main course. With 4-5 modifications (though still keeping the health benefits in tact) I came up with a very satisfying meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup sweet onion – chopped
1/2 cup fennel bulb – julienned
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 links sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup homemade garlic vegetable broth (hopefully you’ve made a batch before and froze some!)
1 (15oz) can Cannellini Beans or Great Northern Beans – rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups kale leaves – torn (you can substitute escarole or swiss chard if you prefer)
3 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese

Preparation
Start by getting your Mise en Place together. This is crucial because once the meat is browned, everything moves quickly. Dice your onion (you’ll probably use 1/2 of a medium onion). Julienne your fennel. Be sure to peel off the outer layer which can be pretty tough and bitter. Mince garlic fine if not using pre-minced from a jar. After rinsing your kale, fold leaves lengthwise so that the spine shows. Pull away from spine and tear leaves into one inch pieces. Discard spines. Rinse and drain your canned beans. Okay – everything in place?

Ready to Cook?
Start by browning the sausage. Peel casings off sausage links and break into one inch pieces while stirring and browning. If you have an enamel cast iron pot, you can do this all in one vessel. But if not, use a frying pan or a pan that browns meat well. Turkey sausage doesn’t render a lot of fat so you may need to give it a splash of olive oil while browning. Once meat is browned and almost thoroughly cooked, add olive oil, onion, garlic and fennel and saute until tender, probably 5-7 minutes on medium heat.

Once the veggies are tender, add the chicken and garlic vegetables broths. [By the way, you can make this with just chicken broth, but I promise you – it won’t taste as amazing.] Add the beans, cover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. About 5 minutes. Then add the kale and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the kale wilts.

Sprinkle the Parmesan shavings on top right before serving. Tip: I pre-shaved extra Parm and have it ready for leftover soup!

The Perfect Bite
Now this is one of my favorite “perfect bite” moments… when you can load your spoon with a little bit of everything. Seriously, scoop up a chunky piece of sausage, a couple of white beans, some leafy kale and some garlicky broth. And be sure to get some Parmesan on there! It’s like they were created to go together. You will hear poetry in your head.

The Perfect Pairing
Pairing wines with soup recipes can be tricky. If you breakdown your soup ingredients and view them as you would a pasta sauce or something of similar status then your task will be less intimidating. If your soup is a tomato base then you’d want a wine with a little less acidity and lighter on the tannin content. If your soup (or stew or chili) is heavy on beans or meat then you could also get away with a wine that has a bit more body and strength. Which is why I chose a 2007 Malbec from Pannotia Vineyards for this soup. With a hint of clove and cinnamon and full tannins, it will play nicely off the sweetness Italian sausage and hold up against the slightly bitter kale.

The Perfect Health
Thanks to Cooking Light Magazine who provided all the health specs for this soup.
Calories:230 Fat: 4.6g Protein: 179g Carbs: 15.5g Fiber: 4.7g Chol: 49mg Iron:1.3mg Sodium: 624mg Calc: 87mg

Garden Vegetable Pasta Bake


This is one of my favorite go-to meals, especially if unexpected company stops by… which happens frequently at my house. If your pantry is regularly stocked with an assortment of dried pastas and a few fresh garden vegetables (or even better – you have a vegetable garden in your yard!) you can whip this up on the spot… an hour’s time max!

Yields: 4-6 main course servings / 8-10 side dish servings

Ingredients
1 lb Fusilli or Rotini noodles (uncooked – I use Barilla Plus)
1/2 cup Vegan Parmesan
1 medium zucchini squash
1 medium yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cup asparagus tips
1 small sweet onion
1 medium red tomato (seeded – rind only)
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 pinch each of what I call The Italian Big 5 (dried): thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary
1.5 tablespoon kosher salt (divided)
1 teaspoon pepper as needed
2-3 tablespoons cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (you can you veggie stock if you prefer)
2 tablespoons vegan butter

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

This is where your veggie chopping skills come in. I’m going to list how I chop my vegetables for this dish, but change it up to your own preference!
Zucchini – trim ends and then chop whole zucchini into three 1.5″-2″ rounds. Then take each round and quarter length-wise.
Yellow Squash – slice into 1/8″ dials. If the squash is fairly fat at the end (more than 1.5″) cut dials in half. The goal is bite-size.
Red & Green Bell Peppers – I cut them julienne. Which is a fancy word for skinny strips. Simply trim top and bottom off pepper and discard. Core and remove seeds and spines. Then slices in 1/4″ slivers about 1.5″ long.
Asparagus – I use just the tips because often the center can be a little woody if not cooked long enough. I cut the tips off about 2″ in. Then I reserve the remainder of the stalk for making soups or purees.
Sweet Onion – peel and dice finely… this should be for flavor and not something you want bite-size.
Garlic – same as the onion above.
Tomato – Slice in half and core out seeds and spines. We just want the fleshy part. Cut into 1″ chunks.

Ready To Cook?
Put a large pot of water on medium heat. Drizzle olive oil and add a tablespoon of salt to the water. I use a good amount of salt when cooking pasta… I’ve heard your water should taste like the ocean when you’re done. Infusing your pasta water with salt is better than adding salt to your meal later.

Once your water comes to a boil add your pasta and continue cooking until it’s just shy of al dente.  Remember, it’s going to cook a little more in the oven so we don’t want to overdo it. I prefer to use the fasilli or rotini noodles because the corkscrew shape holds the seasonings best… but feel free to use whatever your favorite pasta is – I’ve used to bowtie with this as well, which makes for a festive looking dish.

Using as cast iron skillet (or any nonstick), pour in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. While bringing it to a medium heat toss in The Italian Big 5 (dried thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary). Once your oil is ready (it sizzles with a drop of water), gently add in your onion and garlic first. Stir well so that the dried herbs are worked through the oil, onions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes then slowly add the veggies in this order (based on cooking time): Peppers, asparagus, zucchini, squash. Reserve the tomato, which won’t be added until ready to bake. Pour the 1/4 cup of white wine over veggies and continue sauteing for 5-6 minutes or until the zucchini has become tender and can easily be stabbed with a fork.

Drain pasta and transfer to a large baking dish (a lasagna dish works best). Add diced tomatoes. Then pour all the contents from your skillet over the pasta including olive oil/wine reduction that’s happened in the pan while sauteing. This is going to be the sauce. TIP: If your pan has become too dry while sauteing, you may have overcooked your veggies. Just add more olive oil and a splash of white wine (or veggie stock) and de-glaze the bottom of your pan. Add that to your pasta-veggie mix.

Immediately add 2 tablespoons of Vegan margarine so it can melt. Add half of your Vegan Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly until everything is coated and you can see that the herbs are distributed evenly.

Taste your dish to see if additional salt and pepper is needed. TIP: Don’t assume it needs salt – salted pasta may have added plenty. Always taste your food before seasoning!

Sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan and bake uncovered on middle rack for 20 minutes (or until cheese starts to brown at edges).

TIP: If making extra to freeze for later, do not bake the portion you want freeze. Freeze after it’s cooled. Should last in freezer up to a month.

The Perfect Bite
This is one of my favorite kind of dishes to get a perfect bite from. I love stacking my fork with a twirly little noodle, a juicy piece of sausage, a buttery bite of zucchini and sweet sliver of red pepper. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I love the nutty Parmesan and lightness of this invisible sauce.

The Perfect Pairing
This is a great summer dish so I prefer to pair it with a chilled glass of wine. Now, I’ve long since been a rosé snob. Pink wine? Really? My mind immediately goes to that giant box of Almaden Pink Blush Chablis that sits warm on the edge of my mom’s kitchen counter. Sorry Mom, but really?

However, rosé has come a long way… and I’m starting to warm up to them… well, at least when they’re chilled (again Mom, really?). Try pairing this dish with this French Rosé Note Bleue Cotôs De Provence Rosé 2009 – it’s sweet and earthy. A perfect compliment to the buttery pasta and veggies and peppery sausage. Served chilled, about 47 degrees.

The Perfect Health
Using Barilla Plus, reduces carbs and adds protein to any meal.  It’s made from legumes such as Chickpeas and Lentils as well as Egg Whites, Spelt, Barley, Flaxseed, Oat Fiber, and Oats.  Be sure check the box for cooking instructions – Barilla Plus can take longer to boil. Unlike many wheat or whole grain pastas that taste a little, well, cardboardy. This one is delicious! And I’ve found it holds up better in soups (as in, doesn’t swell and get mushy).  Read more here about its nutritional value.

Butternut Squash Lasagna


It’s a misnomer that butternut squash are just a Winter vegetable. Here in Middle Tennessee we have big beautiful squash year long… especially if you get them from your local Farmer’s Market. Granted, there’s a larger abundance of them in the Winter – but you can still easily find them now.

This recipe is made with a butternut squash puree and a nutmeg & basil rue. Sound a little complicated? Only slightly… but the results are ridiculously tasty and you can make a large batch and freeze the remaining. I’ve also included sweet Italian sausage in in this but you can make it vegetarian-friendly if you prefer.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash
1 lb sweet Italian sausage (usually found in links)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (optional of you can’t find)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

The Rue

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the remaining sauce in the pan and stir to blend. This is your basil-nutmeg rue. Season the rue with salt and pepper, to taste.

The Squash Puree

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds, then quarter if squash is large. Coat in olive oil and place flesh side down on cookie sheet. Roast on top rack of oven at 425ountil tender… roughly 45-50 minutes. Be sure to use a cookie tray with at least a 1/2 inch lip as squash will give off a lot of water.

When squash is done, scoop flesh from peel and put in food processor. Add crumbled amaretti cookies and a pinch of salt. Puree until smooth. TIP: When blending hot liquids – remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Ready To Cook?
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

*Saute and brown sausage in a skillet. Break up into 1/2″ pieces.  Drain and set aside.

Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of rue over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times. *Scatter sausage on second layer and cover with the mozzarella.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes then remove and uncover. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. To firm up, let the lasagna stand for at least 20 minutes before serving.

The Perfect Pairing

It’s a sultry summer – try your hand at making a sangria. Sangria’s come in all types and flavors – check out this great site filled with Sangria recipes.

The Perfect Health

Butternut squash is not just low in fat and calories, but these squash are high in Vitamins A & C and high in Potassium and dietary fiber. It’s also a great source for anti-oxidants and works toward heart and lung health. Read here for more details