20 January 2012

Hot Bowls for Cold Nights

By Anna Curtin, Soup Diva, Portland Farmers Market

Like any enthusiastic eater worth her salt, I’ve always loved soup. A number of years ago, I took my love to the next level. Once the weather turned cool and the soup cravings started, I decided to honor soup with its very own party. Better yet, I asked invited guests to pay their respects as well.

For that first annual soup party, guest were asked to bring the strangest, tackiest, ugliest, wildest, most unique bowl they could find and trade it for another equally outrageous one of their choosing before eating their way through the buffet of soups. Not so surprisingly, the bowls that arrived reflected the guests who brought them, sparking conversations and laughter as we took stock of the collection. The bowl with the floating eyeball was just the thing for the aficionado of all things macabre, the golfer’s mug with golf club handle went straight to the self-appointed king of the links, and the delicate, hand painted pottery bowl was a perfect match for my potter/knitter/crafter/all around DIYer friend.

As the “mmmmms” multiplied and each bowl was filled, emptied and refilled for hungry mouths, I was warmed by the simple beauty that is soup. There’s a flavor for any appetite, a recipe for any season, and a bowl for any personality. So go ahead – stock up on the best the season has to offer and set your inner soup diva free.

Greens & Beans Soup

Serves 4-6

This is one of my favorite go-to soups for its simplicity, flexibility and use of the cool weather greens that grow so well in our corner of the world. The flavor is best when you use freshly prepared dried beans, but canned beans will do if that’s what you have on hand. The flavor also improves the next day once the ingredients have had time to blend. In fact, it’s the perfect make-ahead dish for your next soup party!

1 bunch (about 1#) hearty greens, chopped (see note)
1 leek (white and pale green parts only) or 1/2 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1T or to taste)
Pinch of red chili flake (optional, to taste)
1 T olive oil
1 Qt chicken or vegetable stock (your soup will taste better if it’s homemade)
4 C cannellini or other soup bean
2-3 inch Parmesan rind (optional)
1/2 C Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt & pepper
Garnish: additional grated cheese, lemon wedges, smoked paprika, croutons

1) Warm the oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over moderate heat. Once the oil is warmed, add onion (and chard stems), cooking for 5-8 minutes, until softened. Add garlic & chili flake. Cook for a minute until fragrant.
2) Add the rest of the greens, stock, 2-3 cups water, and cheese rind. Cook 10-15 minutes, until greens are tender.
3) Add beans, stir occasionally & cook for a bit to blend the flavors. Stir in Parmesan and flavor with pepper & salt as desired. Serve with additional grated cheese and or lemon wedges for garnish.

The note: Almost any of your favorite greens will do – chard, kale, escarole, mustard, raab, etc. Stem the greens as appropriate. If you are using chard, separate the stems out, thinly slice and add with the onion or leek in the first step.