Aunt Suzy says . . . 

We’ve got colds around here right now, which prompted me to make a huge pot of chicken stock a couple of days ago.  I remembered this really tasty soup that I made a few years ago and thought it would be a nice change of pace from the traditional chicken noodle.  I think the biggest reason it occurred to me to make it is that it’s easy and fast.  Once you have the ingredients gathered together, it takes under 30 minutes start to finish.  That’s very appealing when one has a cold!

2 cups small pasta (small shells, small elbows, ditalini, orzo, etc.)

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 pound fresh Italian chicken sausages (roughly 4),  meat removed from casings and rolled into twenty 1-inch meatballs (pork would also work if chicken aren’t available)

6-8 cups low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken stock

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper OR

*Several grinds of Italian Street Fair spice blend

One 5-ounce bag baby spinach ( or 5 cups bulk), coarsely chopped

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it is al dente, according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium high heat until shimmering. Make sure the pot/oil have heated completely or the meatballs will stick. Add the meatballs and cook over moderately high heat until they are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. (I found that I needed to do this in 2 batches.)  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate. Add the garlic to the pot and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 1 minute.

Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, bring to a simmer.  Add the meatballs to the broth and simmer until they are cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Add the remaining chicken stock – 4 cups for a less brothy end product, 6 cups for a more brothy soup – and season with salt and pepper (or Italian Street Fair blend).  Bring to a simmer or set aside for later use if you are making this ahead.  This soup base can be refrigerated for up to 3 days prior to serving.

Add the spinach and pasta to the simmering broth and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and the soup is piping hot, about 1 minute. Ladle into shallow bowls and serve.  Alternatively, if you are not going to serve all the soup in one meal, you can place a little pasta and a little of the spinach in individual bowls and ladle the piping- hot soup over to serve.

*If you happen to be lucky enough to live near a Spice and Tea Exchange, I highly recommend this blend that’s sold in a grinder. You can also order online – the link will take you to their site.

Aunt Suzy says . . .

Every week Salon.com has what they call Kitchen Challenge, where they pose a type of food or specify ingredients and ask people for their best recipes.   These are often informative, usually lots of fun and provide ideas for new recipes.  Last week was no exception when they asked people to send in “your best combinations of beer and sausage”, asking that people think outside the bun.  The winner was this recipe for sausage and kale braised in dark beer and tossed with pasta.  The author had a sense of humor in that the recipe includes beer, sausage and mustard!  Everything except the bun :-).   We really enjoyed this with the arugula-mint salad that follows, and I thought the Valpolicella I served was a great match.  (sorry the photo is so dark!)

The Sausage-Kale Pasta

1 pound small pasta

EV olive oil for sauteing

4 fresh Italian sausages, meat removed from casings

1 white onion

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound kale, inner stems removed and chopped in 2-inch pieces

1 12-ounce bottle dark beer (we used porter)

1 tablespoon mustard (more or less to taste)

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Grated Parmesan for serving

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS: The original recipe called for spaghetti, but I thought it would be easier to eat with small pasta shapes.  We used Strozzapreti, having just gotten some on sale.  We used 2 hot and 2 mild Italian sausages made with turkey – pork would also be delicious.  We used Lacinato kale (also on sale!), but I think the curly would work just as well, although it would take longer to become tender.

DIRECTIONS: Coat the bottom of a large Dutch oven with olive oil.  Heat to medium high and add the sausage meat.  Brown till just done breaking up into pieces.  When done, remove the sausage and set aside.  Wipe out any stray bits of sausage from the pot, but leave all the good brown stuff – the fond – in the bottom.  Put in a little more olive oil and add the onion.  Saute over medium heat until soft, scraping up the bits off the bottom of the pan.  I found that those bits started burning a little after about 3 minutes, so I added a small amount of the beer to deglaze the pan.  Add the garlic when the onion is soft and stir for a minute till it becomes fragrant.  Add the prepared kale and stir until it’s wilted – you might have to do this in more than one batch.  Add the cooked sausage and the beer, bring to a bubble, reduce heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the kale is tender.

In the meantime, cook the pasta according to directions till al dente.  Drain, saving 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Stir the mustard into the pasta water and then add, along with salt and pepper, to the kale-sausage mixture. Add the Parmesan and stir to blend everything.  Stir in the pasta and heat back to serving temperature.  Serve in bowls and pass the extra Parmesan.

The Arugula-Mint Salad

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground in a mortar

2 tablespoons EV olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or a mix of the vinegar and lemon juice to equal 1 tablespoon

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

6-8 cups greens – a mix of baby lettuces and arugula (I found a bagged mix)

20 or so mint leaves

Make the dressing by combining the fennel, olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice, mustard and salt and pepper.  Whisk until slightly emulsified.  Combine the greens and the mint, then wash and dry.  Place in a salad bowl and toss with the dressing.  Garnish each bowl with a couple of mint leaves.  This salad is a refreshing Wow!