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White Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage and Spinach

Soup – my favorite.  I have been dubbed the “soup girl”, better that than the soup nazi!   There is something comforting and warm about a good soup.   They are easy to make, so for the busy family, couple, single just a great tool to have in your home cook arsenal.

The origin of a soup….first evidence of soup was 6000 BC, with the onset of clay vessels that could hold liquid over a fire.   There is a great article here on the brief history of soup.  No matter what your ancestral heritage, one of the few common foods that threads us together is soup.  

For most soups, you can use canned beans, as well as dried beans.  If I have the time I will use a dried bean.   They will need to be soaked over night for a good 10-12 hours.  However, sometimes we just don’t think that far ahead, so a good can/jarred bean is an acceptable substitute.   In this recipe,  I use canned, but will provide instructions for using dried beans.  As always, it will be your choice to try the method that you prefer. 

One hint on this soup.  It gets thick.  It can be more like a stew and if you want a more brothy consistency, you will need to add more stock.  I will give that hint in the recipe.  No matter what, it’s a darn good meal!  When you look at the list of ingredients below, don’t be too put off.   Its really not as complicated or time consuming as you think.   Do your prep work and gather it all (lots of seasonings) and I promise, it will take you no time at all to prepare this!  The reward is the best soup ever. 

White Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage and Spinach

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
or – 2 cups of dry cannellini beans, rinsed, soaked in cold water overnight or for 10-12 hours.  
2 quarts chicken stock (preferable homemade, seasoned well)
1 lb of sweet Italian sausage. 
I use one that is made at my local meat store.  I love a fresh made Italian sausage.   If you don’t have that option, Johnsonville has a great Sweet Italian Sausage product.  You want something that is full of flavor!
6 oz of hickory smoked bacon or pancetta (your preference)
2 T Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet Vidalia onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, crushed (I used about 2-3 T of the crushed fresh garlic in a tube)
1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large can of tomatoes and their juice. 
I use a whole tomato and then break them up into chunks in the soup. 
1 t salt
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
1 T chopped fresh sage leaves
1-½ t chopped fresh thyme
1-½ t chopped fresh oregano
Use fresh when available.  Dried can be substituted.  Increase amount of each herb then by ½ t
1 T red pepper flakes

9 0z baby spinach, cleaned, rinsed and dried, then torn in half and stems removed
1 pkg baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups of Ditalini pasta

Heat up a large stock pot/dutch oven on medium high heat.  When pan is smoking, add the chopped bacon.  Cook until crisp and reserve. 

Leaving the bacon fat (about 2 T) in the pan, place the onion and cook until sweet and slightly brown.  Add garlic and heat through.  (Don’t burn the garlic!) 

To this mixture, add your sausage and brown.  Remove the sausage/onion mix from the pan onto a plate and set aside for later.  

Add the olive oil to the pan (or extra bacon fat, if there is still some) and sauté the red pepper until soft. 

Now, add the sausage/onion mix back to the pan with the peppers.  (Keep the crispy bacon set aside).  Stir in the beans, thyme, oregano, sage, salt and pepper.   Cook for about 1 minute. 

Add the chicken stock.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.  (This time will be longer, about 1 hour, if using dried beans, soaked overnight). 

Add the spinach. Mushrooms, red pepper flakes and the ditalini pasta to the soup.   Cook an additional 10 minutes.   This is where you watch the liquid.  The pasta will soak up the liquid, the spinach will release some as well.  Depending on preference (brothy soup or heart stew) will determine any additional stock you may want to add. 

Serve with toppings listed below and a warm crusty baguette!

Sour cream
Crispy bacon
½ c green onions, sliced on the diagonal
½ c fried leeks (see recipe below)

Fried Leeks
2 leeks cleaned, trimmed and sliced in circles, using only the whites
1 c vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Break up the leaks into individual rounds.  Make sure that you soak them in a bowl of ice water and that they have been cleaned and rid of all dirt and grit.   When removing them from the bowl, pap with a paper towel, getting rid of as much excess water as you can. 

In a large frying pan, place the vegetable oil and heat til pops when drops of water hit the oil.  Place a layer of leeks in the pan and fry, until crispy and golden.  Remove with a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels.   Set aside for use as garnish to the soup. 

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