During the bomb cyclone of early January this White Bean, Red Chard and Sausage Soup soup got us through the snowy cold. It’s a warming, stick to your ribs, keep-you-full-for-hours kind of winter soup. And if you know me, you know I like soup.
And if you don’t know me–I’ll tell you about my love for soup. It’s my favorite food. There’s something about broth that is SO satisfying. The flavors that can be coaxed from bones, vegetable scraps or even a few onions never cease to amaze me. And when I was a kid, matzoh ball soup from The Mill Basin Deli and Sancocho (a Dominican stew of root vegetables and a variety of meats) were two of my favorite (and very different) meals.
Fast forward to college, a time in my life that is blurry and confusing–the nights I most clearly and fondly remember were nights my roommates and I ordered Asian fusion and watched tv. While others ordered California rolls and sesame chicken, my order always always consisted of two or three soups (wonton! hot and sour! miso! eggdrop!). They still make fun of me ten years later.
But this isn’t just a random obsession I have–my dad’s favorite food is also soup (and I’d consider him a soup master)! Every week at Clinton Street there is a special soup on the menu, and every time I ask him what I should eat, he always says, “the soup today is great.” It must be genetic. And fast forward to this present moment, every time I make a soup or eat a soup that’s mind blowing (the last great soup I ate was Prune’s celery root soup) I think of him.
And bringing it full circle to this recipe, what I love most is that this isn’t a “one note” winter soup. You know the soups I’m talking about, the ones that taste the same all the way through (the too sweet butternut squash or the aggressively spiced chili). Well this soup is not. that.
With each bite you get something a little different, sweet sausage, creamy beans, earthy greens, and the occasional burst of acid from the pickled chard that’s piled on top. It also hits the right textural and temperature notes, which are important soup factors. Hot soup always needs crunchy and cool elements, and the pickled chard is just that. With the final addition of chopped parsley and freshly grated parm, this soup is very. very. good.
The broth is simple, and if you like a more broth-y soup, I recommend adding more water (7 cups) and maybe even a cube of organic vegetable bouillon. If you prefer a heavier soup, reduce the amount of water (start with 5 cups) and let the beans cook longer, allowing them to thicken the broth naturally. I’m in the broth-y camp, but I’ll let you have your own soup opinions. I don’t discriminate.
And please, please, don’t top this soup with pre-grated parmesan cheese. I know the good stuff is expensive, but it really does make a difference. Pick up a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano from Whole Foods and it will last you at least 3 months.
And when you get to the end of the hunk–DON’T throw out the rind. Add it to your next soup and search for the nuanced parm flavor. I can just taste it…
White Bean, Red Chard and Sausage Soup
(makes one big pot, around 8-10 servings)
1 lb soaked Great Northern beans (soaked overnight in cold water, or you can use 4 10oz cans of white beans)
1 lb pork sausage outside of the casing
1 super large white onion, diced (or two medium-large onions)
1 large head of garlic, chopped fine
1 bunch parsley roughly chopped (reserve some for garnish)
5-7 cups water (depending on how broth-y you like your soup, mine has 7 cups)
2 bay leaves
1 bunch red Swiss chard (red stems removed, washed and chopped)
1/4 lemon last minute squeeze into soup
Lots of ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to finish
Quick Pickle Chard Stems
Red chard stems (sliced thin, long side of chard parallel to you)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
Soak beans in cold water at least 12 hours before making this soup. Make sure you start with the beans in a large bowl and that they’re covered with at least one inch of water above the beans.
Heat a large pot and brown sausage (the sausage should make a sizzle when it hits the bottom of the pan). Make sure not to mix immediately in order to let the sausage caramelize and form a crust (brown bits equal flavor). Add olive oil if sausage isn’t very fatty (although it should be because fat also equals flavor). Be sure not to break the sausage up too much, you want to keep it in large pieces (around 1/2 – 1 inch pieces). Season with salt and pepper.
Dice large onion. Mince whole head of garlic. Add to the pot once the sausage is nicely browned and almost fully cooked. Let the onions and garlic sweat down until translucent and your kitchen smells fantastic.
Add white beans, chopped parsley (3/4 of bunch, reserve some for garnish). Stir well, add water and bay leaves.
Let come to boil. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours until beans are tender.
While soup is cooking, remove stems from chard and set stems aside. Stack chard leaves and chop into bite size pieces (around 2 inches wide). Wash well and set aside.
To pickle chard stems, add vinegar, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Chop chard stems into fine slices (stems parallel to your body). Add chard to the vinegar mixture and stir to combine. Let sit at least an hour until soup is ready.
Once beans are tender and soup is to desired consistency, add salt/pepper to taste. Add squeeze of lemon. Add chard leaves and let cook for 5 more minutes.
Plate soup, adding pickled chard stems and grated parm. Serve with buttered toast and enjoy!
(me waiting for the beans to cook all the way through, wishing I’d used canned beans at the moment but glad I didn’t)