By Terry Harris
It’s no secret that I love experimenting with food. In fact, “playing” with combinations and flavors to come up with new ways to enjoy familiar foods is what makes cooking fun to me. It’s also a great rescue for us all from the boredom of preparing – and eating - “the same old things.” And that’s how these two bean soup recipes came about – combining simple, everyday ingredients to produce something that’s familiar enough to please the pickiest eater, but just different enough to be interesting – and always delicious, because you get to choose your own ingredients.
And before you protest, as one “Martha Stewart-type” acquaintance recently did, “But I can’t cook without a recipe!”… Yes, you can. Granted, for baking, precise measurements can mean the difference between a masterpiece and a mass of ick. But for soups, basically, if you start with some sort of liquid flavored with onions, chicken, beef, etc. and toss in vegetables and maybe a bit of pasta or rice - TA DA! Soup!
And there is just nothing better on a crisp, winter day when you’re coming in out of the cold, or even just enjoying a good game or movie on tv, with the anticipation building as the aroma fills the house!
These Hearty Sausage and Bean Soups are a great way to start your own experiments, as they’re super-flexible, easy to make with common ingredients, and absolutely delicious! When I first made Basic Sausage and Bean Soup (years ago), I used a pound of hot breakfast sausage – you know, the kind that comes in a roll, ready to slice and fry? That’s still my favorite, and if you add some baked sweet potatoes and cornbread on the side you’ve got the makings of a wonderful wintertime meal. For that little extra boost from familiar to fabulous, step up to Italian Sausage and add some Celery. And I love that you can have either ready to eat in less than an hour – or let it simmer all day long for grabbing up during halftime or between movies.
For even greater variety, don’t be afraid to adjust the amount of any of the ingredients as well as the type, according to your preference and your audience. If you doubled the beans, it would still taste great, just not as meaty. If you omitted the garlic (which I usually do) you’ll have a little more of a “Southern Down Home” taste. If you have a friend who loves really hot food, you can always liberally douse it with hot sauce while cooking. (I’m not a fan of really spicy foods, so I use a generous amount of black pepper and let them add their own hot sauce.)
When you pre-cook your sausage, you can actually crumble or slice either kind. Just don’t fry it up hard. Either is great with the big, soft, Great Northern Beans. As for celery, I like to take about five cleaned ribs from a stalk of celery and slice them about a half an inch thick, because I like both the taste and the look of it – and it’s easy for people who don’t like celery to remove it. If you think it’s important for the flavor, as I do, but you are cooking for people who claim to hate celery, you can dice it, cook it a little longer, and it will just disappear into the soup. It’s not as pretty, but it makes it easy to just smile modestly as those celery-haters rave about how delicious it is.
One note on the beans: I prefer Great Northern Beans, though probably most any kind that you really like would work, and yes, you can buy them dried and pick them twice and wash them three times and soak them overnight and boil them for hours. You can feel all virtuous, and they’ll certainly taste fine. However, so will canned beans if you buy good ones and fix them this way. I just generally recommend that you dump the canned ones in a colander and rinse away the liquid they’re packed in for a real “homemade” like Grandma used to make flavor.
Made by these directions, your bean with sausage soup will be pretty thick – sort of like chili – because that’s how I like it. But for my cousin who prefers her soup “soupy” I always add more broth. And sometimes I serve it with a sprinkling of grated sharp cheddar or parmesan cheese on top. It’s all according to taste and mood.
Again, everything about this soup is all according to preference – or how many people are coming over. I promise it’s wonderful just as given, or with any of the options suggested, and you know what? I’ll bet it will be just as good if you use your own favorite vegetables or flavoring additions. And, just between us, when unexpected company dropped in, I may have been known to double the broth at the last minute and throw on a couple of extra sweet potatoes to feed twice as many as I originally planned on. Hey, who says cooking isn’t really just making magic in the kitchen!?!? Enjoy!
Queenie’s Basic Sausage & Bean Soup
1 Pound breakfast Sausage, mild or spicy, crumble cooked
1 Large (40.5 ounce) Can Great Northern Beans (or navy beans)
1 box (32 oz) Swanson Chicken Broth*
1 medium onion, diced
½ Cup (more or less) Green Chili Sauce* optional addition
Pepper & Salt, according to taste
Sauté sausage, crumbling as it cooks, until nicely browned, but not hard. Add onion and continue to cook until onions are translucent. Pour in broth and when it’s steaming, add beans. When nice and bubbly, begin adding Green Chili Sauce, sauce and pepper until soup has the flavor and amount of heat desired. May add additional broth for a thinner soup.
Queenie’s Italian Sausage & White Bean Soup
1 Pound Italian Sausage, mild or spicy, sliced into rounds
1 Large (40.5 ounce) Can Great Northern Beans (or 2 medium cans)
1 box (32 oz) Swanson Chicken Broth
1 medium onion, diced
1 Cup sliced (1/2 inch) celery
Pepper & Salt, according to taste
1 garlic bulb, crushed (optional)
Hot sauce or pepper flakes (optional)
Lightly, but thoroughly, brown sausage on medium-low in a little olive oil, if needed. You do not want this dark, or hard. Add onion to pot and cover, continuing to cook on low until onion is translucent. Add broth and dip off any grease before it comes to a boil. Add optional garlic and/or hot sauce/pepper flakes and adjust salt and pepper. Add beans and celery and simmer on low until celery is desired doneness. NOTE: You can simmer this on low for hours and it will just get even softer and tastier, but don’t add the celery until 20 minutes before serving unless you want that to cook apart. Also, you can add more broth if you want a “soupier” soup. By this recipe, it will be very thicklike chili.