Full on war has been waged around these parts; an all out assault aimed directly at wiping out the masses of the fluffy topped and canary colored dandelions that keep insolently thrusting themselves up through the ground and into our lawn. Though normally I’d be all for a flower that takes zero attention and maintenance to thrive – and even flourish – this particular flower is an unsightly weed and a persistent one at that, and it’s habits of proliferating wherever the heck it feels like is enough to drive a sane amateur gardener mad.
Having decided that the old barehanded grab’em’n'yank’em tactic was proving ineffective at squelching those suckers for good, we ferried ourselves on over to McGuckin’s and snatched up some life-changers – a couple of pairs of gardening gloves, and a stainless steel weeder that allows you to actually excavate the weed’s roots from the ground instead of just ripping off its head, a la the evil Queen of Hearts.
And let me tell you just how satisfying it is to hear that deep ripping noise and pacifying ‘thunk‘ that comes along with riving the pointed roots of a pesky and unwanted intruder out from the soil and into the compost bucket. There is almost nothing better than seeing the tangible fruits of your labor immediately, and the sight of a lawn that is finally more green than yellow is a sign that we’ve had ourselves a fine afternoon in the garden.
And just what has Colorado done to me?! Whereas in just Spring of last year I was waxing poetic about fancy things like dining al fresco in open toed shoes and serving grilled Caesar salads at dinner parties, here I am talking about the insanely boring (and frankly just insane) dandelion inquest we have going on at our house. I can safely say that one year ago I cared no more about dandelions than I did about whoever got the first draft pick in whatever sport those sorts of things happen in. You see what I am saying? From high heels and business cards to gardening gloves and a penchant for furiously murdering weeds.
It’s madness, frankly.
But I digress – back to my dandelions. After a long weekend morning of padding around on my knees and asserting power over my hapless flossy-capped victims, the absolute last thing I want to eat after mopping the sweat off my brow is a big, steaming, bowl of soup. Alas Boulder has gone and pulled her usual weather switcheroo on us again, and whereas at this time last week the mercury was soaring nearly into the 90′s, this weekend has been markedly cooler, neccessitating both tossing a hoodie over my tank and pulling our fledgling basil plant inside at dusk.
It is in this version of Springtime that a big bowl of that steaming hot soup sounds divine after a day spent acting like a real grownup, fussing over things like rows of lettuce, the merits of each hose nozzle setting, and those evil, dreadful, dandelions.
A favorite soup combination of mine has always been white bean and sausage, and this soup gives the seemingly heavy combo a bit of a light Springtime makeover. Instead of pork sausage, I used a spicy chicken variety that inherently has less fat, and therefore is less greasy – a fan of sausage in soup I am only if said sausage does not create a sickly oil slick in the top of each bowl. Chopped carrots and fennel add crunch and a fresh flavor, and strips of kale wilt down into the hot broth to lend both texture and a healthful dose of Vitamin K to the mix.
Giving this soup a further light edge is a bit of lemon juice and zest; I find that the acidity and flavor from both work really well with the root vegetables and kale. A bit of finely grated parmesan is tossed into the broth just as it finishes simmering, giving the vegetable based broth a tiny bit of body, and a salty/savory edge that makes the soup feel luxurious and special.
As I have mentioned here before, having a big pot of something tasty and healthy in the fridge is always a good idea – it helps you avoid any rash lunchtime decisions, and also bearing the brunt of cooking and cleaning in one afternoon allows you time later that week just grab-and-go, and avoid tackling a mountain of dishes every day.
This soup makes a great dinner or lunch – bulk it up with a piece of crusty bread on the side, or keep things light, with a simple green salad. The fennel and kale keep things from feeling murky, while the carrots and onion keep it grounded and homey. The best part? This soup gets better each day it sits in the refrigerator – much like a chili, or stew.
I ate this after ripping dandelions out of the ground like a mad person – but I can assure you that it was still delicious in the days following, when I was up to less domestic things – like hiking, strolling by the creek, and forcing the pug to relinquish whatever magazine it was she felt like destroying that day.
Kale, White Bean, and Fennel Soup with Chicken Sausage Meatballs
You can either buy the sausage in links or in bulk; if you buy it in links, just make a slit in the casing and remove the sausage (discard the casing). Be sure to keep all of your chopped veggies in approximately the same size dice; that way, they will cook more evenly and all be done at the same time.
This soup is very forgiving and really easy; feel free to stir in fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, tarragon, or chives if you’d like a bit of herbal flavor (do this when you add the meatballs and kale to the soup). It is ready in about an hour, and I always recommend making a full batch to enjoy all week, or freeze for later.
~1 pound uncooked chicken sausage (either hot or sweet italian flavor)
1 bulb fennel, chopped (discard stalks & fronds)
4 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28 oz can cannellini beans (or 2 14 oz cans), drained and rinsed
1 bunch (~1 lb) black/lacinato kale (aka dino kale)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 bay leaf
8 cups vegetable broth
juice and zest of one lemon
kosher salt & fresh black pepper
First, make and fry your meatballs. Pinch off small amounts of sausage and roll them gently between your hands to make a small meatball, about half the size of a ping pong ball. When all of your sausage balls are rolled, heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few glugs of olive oil, and when the oil is shimmering and the pan very hot, add your meatballs in batches, and fry them on all sides. When the meatballs are browned well on all sides (they do not need to be cooked through as they will cook again later in the soup), lift them out of the pan with a slotted spoon, and reserve them to the side. Continue this process to fry the rest of your meatballs.
When all of the meatballs are cooked, it is time to start the soup. In a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot, add a bit of olive oil – about 2 Tbsp. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and then add in your chopped fennel, carrots, and onion, along with a healthy pinch of kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are beginning to get tender and the onion is translucent on the edges. Add in the chopped garlic, and cook, stirring almost constantly (to avoid letting the garlic burn) for about 1 minute.
When the garlic is toasted and fragrant, add in the vegetable broth and the bay leaf. Bring the mixture up to a boil over high heat, and then reduce it back to a simmer once it is bubbling (medium/medium-low heat should work perfectly here). Simmer the soup for 25-30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Stir in the drained and rinsed cannellini beans, and let the mixture simmer 10 minutes more. While the beans simmer, cut the kale into thin strips, by stacking the leaves on top of one another and cutting skinny strips from the pile, no more than 1/4″ thick. Discard any tough or woody stems. After 10 minutes, add the kale strips to the simmering soup along with your cooked meatballs, and stir well. Simmer he soup for 10-15 minutes more, until the kale is wilted and tender and the meatballs are cooked through. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, as well as the 1/2 cup parmesan. Taste the soup, and adjust the salt and pepper to your liking (I like a salty soup, and add a good bit of both here).
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, and top with a few gratings of fresh parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, while still hot and with the cheese melting into the broth.
This soup keeps really well in the fridge, and gets better as time goes by. I keep mine for up to 5 days, covered in the fridge, and find it makes an excellent lunch, dinner, or healthy in-between meal snack.