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Spring may be around the corner, but the nights are still cold and I want something warm and comforting. Kale and bean soup fills the bill. Along with some crusty bread, it is a meal in itself.

I first had it when a friend brought some for a potluck. She served it hesitantly, saying I might be put off by all the garlic. Little did she know that I had never met a dish that had too much garlic. I found it delicious and asked for the recipe.

Please don't be put off by the name. This is a hearty, rustic soup where you won't even notice the kale.

If you're not a kale fan, I can empathize. On my list of leafy greens, its chewy texture places it near the bottom. However, this same texture makes it perfect for soups.

If you want to include some of this vitamin-rich green in your diet, you won't have to worry about running around York looking for the tender locinato kale, which is usually what is recommended for kale sautes and salads. The supermarket variety will work just fine in this soup.

The soup doesn't involve a lot of complicated steps. If you soak the beans the night before, the cooking time will be short. If you can't find cannellini beans, great northern beans are a good substitute. With a little planning, you can save some money by not using canned beans. If you're not going to use tomato paste in the near future, you can measure out the rest of the can in two-tablespoon portions and freeze them in plastic wrap.

Kale and Bean Soup

1/2 pound kale (about 4 cups)

4 large garlic cloves, minced

olive oil to coat the bottom of your soup pot

6 cups cooked (2 cups dry) cannellini (white kidney) beans

4 to 5 cups bean water, vegetable or chicken stock, or water

2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste

6 fresh sage leaves (1/2 teaspoon dry)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal

1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

freshly grated Parmesan cheese

An hour or so before you plan to make the soup, drain the beans and cover them with fresh water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the beans are tender, about 35 minutes. Drain the beans, saving the bean water.

Remove the stems from the kale and coarsely chop the leaves. Set aside. In a large soup pot, saute the garlic in olive oil for a minute or so. Be careful that it doesn't burn. Add about half of the cooked beans and part of the bean water or stock to the pot. Puree the rest of the beans and stock in a blender or food processor along with the tomato paste and sage. Stir the pureed beans into the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the kale. Mix it into the soup and simmer for at least half an hour, until tender.

Mix the cornmeal with the lemon juice and enough water to make one cup. Pour this paste slowly into the simmering soup while stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Simmer the soup for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning.

Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.

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