- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The calendar indicates spring has officially arrived, but you wouldn’t know it in my New England town. When I look at our yard, I see bare trees and a lawn with no hint of green. The temperatures, still hovering in the chilly 40s, are another sign that we are in limbo between cold and warm.

The glistening blankets of snow have disappeared, but the first blooms of spring are near. No wonder, then, that so many around here seem to have the blahs.

Realizing this, a good friend and I decided to plan a party to lift spirits. We discussed a cocktail buffet or a brunch, but in the end decided to host a soup supper. Nothing could be simpler, we thought, or more satisfying. We would prepare a white bean soup with chorizo and kale to offer with a green salad and a basket of warm breads.

For appetizers, we would set out trays of olives and marcona almonds, and serve a baked Camembert topped with chopped walnuts. A dark chocolate spice cake drizzled with warm chocolate sauce is scheduled to end the dinner.

Since the soup will be the main course, we’ve chosen one that is rich and filling. It’s the creation of my fellow cook and hostess, Maddy Blaise, who loves soups prepared with beans and spicy sausages.

After soaking white beans, we simmer them slowly in stock along with a small amount of salt pork and plenty of sauteed carrots, celery and onions. Thyme, garlic and hot red pepper flakes provide robust accents along with sliced chorizo and chopped kale. A dusting of grated Parmesan makes a delectable garnish.

Our party is only days away, but we are way ahead of the game. We made the soup and baked the cake last week and stored them in the freezer. All we have to do now is buy the appetizers, the breads and the salad greens. A soup supper is a great way to entertain, and at this time of the year it’s guaranteed to chase away the seasonal blues.

Maddy’s white bean soup with chorizo and kale

1 pound Great Northern beans

Water

1/4 pound piece of salt pork

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onions

2 cups shredded carrots (see note)

2 cups chopped celery

5 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more if needed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

10 to 12 cups chicken stock (see note)

½ pound chorizo, thinly sliced

5 cups chopped fresh kale, stems cut off and discarded

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano

Rinse beans and place them in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 8 cups water to a boil and pour over the beans. Soak beans an hour. Rinse the salt pork under cold water and cut it into 4 equal-sized pieces.

While beans are soaking, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir, and cook 2 minutes more. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

After beans have soaked an hour, drain them in a colander and rinse. Transfer beans to a large, deep-sided pot (with a lid) and add the pieces of salt pork and the sauteed vegetables. Stir in the thyme, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, several grinds of black pepper, and 10 cups of the stock.

Place the pot over medium high heat and bring mixture to a simmer. Lower heat, cover pot, and cook 1 hour. Add chorizo, and cook soup, covered, 30 minutes more or until beans are tender, but not mushy.

With a slotted spoon, remove the 4 pieces of salt pork and discard. (The soup can be prepared 2 days ahead to this point. Cool, cover and refrigerate. It can also be frozen. Cool, cover tightly and defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat when ready to use.)

Season soup with more salt and black pepper, if needed. If you want a spicier taste, add an extra pinch of red pepper flakes. If soup is too thin, cook it down over high heat for a few minutes. If the soup is too thick, you can add up to 2 cups extra stock, but heat the mixture a few extra minutes to ensure that it is hot all the way through. Add the chopped kale to the simmering soup, and cook until it is wilted, about 3 minutes.

Ladle soup into 6 large soup bowls and garnish each serving with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Pass any extra cheese in a bowl separately. Makes 6 servings.

Notes: To save time, I buy shredded carrots from the salad bar at my local supermarket. If you make the soup ahead and refrigerate or freeze it, the beans seem to soak up a little more of the liquid, so you’ll need up to 2 additional cups of stock or water to thin.

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