For the next few, make that several, weeks; it’s all downhill from here. More often than not, Columbus Day marks the beginning of the end of leaf peeping. This year is no exception. While the roads are still filled with busloads of dead leaf watchers, the maples have peeked. No longer brilliant red; the tree in my yard is a skeleton with a few wispy leaves. For those that gush in wonder over the golden beeches and nutty brown oaks, there is still time for you. Truth be told, I’m a red girl. It’s more or less over for me when the maples fade, especially if the sky fades right along with them.
I’m not immune to bright yellow leaves against a brilliant blue sky but, unfortunately, mid-October can only mean one thing. We are entering the gray zone. Sure, we brag about our glorious fall to our friends who have the misfortune to live somewhere other than New England. We crow about our foliage, the mist on the lake in the early morning and the golden sunlight that filters through the golden leaves. The mornings and evenings are cool but my sunny (newly completed – yay!) terrace invites me outside for a break at midday.
That changes after Columbus Day.
It seems like overnight, glorious fall becomes a dreary twilight zone. It’s too miserable for autumn and not cold or clear enough for winter. Instead, it rains and rains some more. Followed by days of intermittent clouds, rain and, before you know it, snow. Not the nice fluffy stuff, the kind that is perfect for skiing or at least decent for snowshoeing. No, it is the wet, icy, sleety Halloween snow. The good stuff doesn’t come until late November or early December. Plus, it’s dark most of the time or maybe it just feels that way. The sun rises late and sets early, particularly for those of us that live at the bottom of the hill.
So, enough complaining! These dark, drab weeks are a perfect time to putter around the kitchen. The really well organized will cook up batches and batches of soup and marinara or Bolognese sauce. Not a bad idea if you’re a skier because, once the snow flies, you won’t have time to cook. If you’re not all that well organized or one of those I-hate-to-cook types, feel free to skip the puttering. Just flutter around the kitchen for a while, wave your arms a few times and then read a book or go for a walk. When you get back, make reservations.
Anyway, this too shall pass. The holidays are coming with lots of hoopla, fun and frivolity to keep us busy and happy. Before you know it, there’ll be enough snow for downhill and cross-country skiing. Whether you ski or not.
In the meantime, enjoy some time in the kitchen and bon appétit!
1 pound dried small white beans, rinsed and picked over or 6 cups cooked, rinsed and drained
4 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped*
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 teaspoon or to taste hot sauce
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh, chopped rosemary
About 4 cups or more (less if you are using canned beans) chicken stock*
About 3 cups (28 ounce can) crushed tomatoes
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)†
1 bay leaf
2 ounces (about 1 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus more to serve
1/2-1 cup half-and-half (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the beans in a large bowl, add enough water to cover the beans by 2-4 inches, cover and soak in the refrigerator overnight.
Put the bacon in a soup kettle and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot and drain on paper towels. Cover and store in the refrigerator.
Leaving a coating in the bottom of the pot, drain some of the bacon fat, add the onion, leeks, carrots, and celery, season with hot sauce and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion is almost translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half.
Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans. Tie the thyme and bay leaf together with a piece of kitchen twine.
Add the beans, stock, crushed tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano rind and herbs to the vegetables and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if the beans seem dry, until the beans are very tender, about 1 hour. If using canned beans, simmer for about 20 minutes.
Cool the soup for 20-30 minutes. Remove the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, thyme twigs and bay leaf and, working in batches, puree the soup. Use a blender for very smooth soup or a food processor for a more rustic version. Return the soup to the pot.
If you have the time, cool the soup to room temperature and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Stirring frequently, reheat the soup on medium heat. Stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, half-and-half and more stock if needed and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Reheat the bacon in a 350-degree oven for about 2 minutes. Serve the soup in bowls or mugs with a drizzle of Sage Oil and a sprinkle of bacon.
* For a vegetarian soup, substitute the bacon fat with a little olive oil and skip the bacon garnish. Use vegetable instead of chicken stock.
† A piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind will add wonderful richness to your soups. If you have one handy, add it to the soup pot. If not, when you reach the end of your next wedge of parm; cover and store the rind in the freezer for the next time.
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, gently packed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Put the herbs, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small food processor or blender and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until the herbs and garlic are finely chopped and incorporated into the oil.
Let the oil sit for an hour at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator to mix and meld the flavors.
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One Year Ago – Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers
Two Years Ago – Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
Three Years Ago – Carbonnade á la Flamande – Beer Braised Beef & Onions
Four Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon
Five Years Ago – Pumpkin Cupcakes
Six Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
How will you spend Columbus Day weekend? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.
© Susan W. Nye, 2014