Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Italian Navy Bean Soup

Gentle reader,

First of all, my apologies for the delay on this post. You see, dear friends, occasionally a Claire must leave the kitchen to do other things that are far less interesting than cooking. However, I don't think that anyone would want to read the blogs entitled "A Claire at Her Desk Staring at a Computer" or "A Claire Reading Academic Journal Articles with a Highlighter in her Mouth". Yawn! I'm bored just thinking about it.

So let's get back to food, shall we? Specifically, yummy soup cooked all day, slow and low, filling the house with warm, savory goodness.

Believe it or not, this recipe was inspired by none other than my beat-up (but well-loved) copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Oh yes, that stalwart old standby with the red and white gingham cover. The recipes in this book aren't exactly modern, but they often provide the muse for culinary inspiration. I tinkered with their Italian Sausage-Navy Bean Stew and came up with something a little healthier,less greasy, and full of rich flavor (thanks to some homemade stocks).

Tips for excellent slow-cooking:
1) If you are using meat, sear or brown it first. That seals in the juices and gives depth of flavor and color to your dish. Some veggies can also be browned before going in the Crock-pot. Cubed butternut squash comes to mind...

2) Use less water than you would need if you were doing stovetop cooking, especially when cooking rice. Slow-cookers hold in both heat and moisture quite well - great for cooking all day as it's virtually impossible to overcook food. Not great if you add too much water and get soupy rice.

3) When purchasing a slow-cooker, get a big one - 5 or 6 quarts big. Nothing sucks worse than when you purchase a big corned beef that you can't wait to slow cook with some cabbage and carrots.....and then you figure out it doesn't fit in your pot. Wah, wah....

Slow-cooker Italian Navy Bean Soup
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, 1999)

1 lb. dry navy beans (2 1/3 cups)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups lamb stock
1/3 cup water
1 lb. hot turkey italian sausage, cut into 1/2 in. slices (I use Jennie-O)
3 cups kale, spinach, or swiss chard
1 14 1/2 oz can of diced Italian tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2 bay leaves

1. Rinse beans. Cover with water in a pan or bowl. Soak for 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Sear Italian sausage slices in a skillet on medium-high heat until just brown, but not fully cooked.

3. In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, combine beans, stock, water, sausage, kale, undrained tomatoes, onion, garlic, and bay leaves.

4. Cover and cook on high for 6 hours or low for 10 hours.

5. Discard bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 11 cups (8 servings)

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