Sure, Spring has sprung on the Daylight Savings Time calendar. But realistically, it's still too early to give up the soothing qualities of a warm, rustic soup. A friend reminded me of this with her take on an Italian Chicken Sausage and Artichoke Soup, which hit the spot on a recent cloudy weekend afternoon. Of course she made additions and changes, which is part of the beauty of soup: it's very forgiving, and usually welcomes the cook's creative touch.
Herewith, an Italian sausage soup recipe for the days when the sun is a bit hidden and spring is merely slumping, not speeding, toward us.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian chicken sausage (mild, with fennel) casings removed and meat broken into chunks
3 cans (15 oz. each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and halved
1 bunch chard (1 lb.), stemmed and chopped
Lynne's optional additions and notes: Italian chicken with basil sausage (in addition to the fennel sausage), canned spicy cherry tomatoes and canned artichoke bottoms (find each at Barbur World Foods). She used loose sausage rather than cased, since the casings were to be removed anyway.
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook sausage until browned, stirring often, 10 minutes. Add broth, artichokes, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer. Add chard and cook, covered, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with freshly grated cheese and warm ciabatta bread.
Recipe is adapted from Sunset magazine.
Another variation on the Italian sausage in the spring theme:
Celebrity chef Mario Batali is, like my friend, Italian. Unlike my friend, he did a feature in the April edition of Food and Wine where he cooks with comedian Jimmy Fallon. His Italian sausage and pasta recipe reminded me of Lynne's sausage and greens soup. Battali (unlike Polombo), used cabbage as his green vegetable in an "ode to his friend Jimmy Fallon's Irish heritage" – and as a nod to the upcoming St. Patrick's Day, no doubt, which all of us home cooks are desperately seeking green menus for. It sounds perfect for a spring day when soup is not enough, when the carb comfort of pasta must be included. And since cabbage is a super food, and has my vote to replace kale as ubiquitously hip food of the moment, you can't go wrong. (I'd add cabbage to Lynne's soup, too, but not for Jimmy Fallon.)
1 pound green cabbage (1/2 medium head), cut into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 pound spicy Italian sausage—casings discarded, meat crumbled
2 cups "Batali's Essential Tomato Sauce" or jarred tomato sauce
1 pound fettuccine
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the cabbage until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cabbage to a colander. Cool the cabbage under running water and drain well.
In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt; cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 7 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, until no pink remains, 7 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and cabbage. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until the cabbage is tender, 15 minutes.
Return the cabbage cooking water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until just barely al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and reserved cooking water to the cabbage sauce. Cook over moderate heat, tossing, until the pasta is coated and al dente, about 2 minutes. Transfer the pasta to shallow bowls, sprinkle cheese on top and serve.
And say hi to Jimmy Fallon for me!