Baby, it’s cold outside! ❄️🥶 No matter where you are in the US, it’s cold right now. My sister will probably share her adventures of travel to and from Bozeman, Montana last week, where the temperatures were 34 degrees below zero at night and which due to the cold and snow involved flights to four different airports to get home. Here in LA, it felt that cold–so we said–still, our self-acknowledged wimpiness for cold weather has everyone all bundled up when the temperatures drop below 50℉, so despite our complaining about the “freezing” temperatures, they never got below 45 degrees.
When this kind of weather hits, combined with the early nightfall in the winter, comforting, warm soups come to mind. While I have been cooking soups for weeks already, this week seemed to call for something a little less filling and a little more soulful. Perhaps the calendar clinking over to 2024 has me thinking about the warmer weather ahead.
I was also looking back at some of the soups we have made in the past on this blog and came across a Tuscan-inspired soup that my sister made way back in 2009. Fresh porcini mushrooms are the prize of the autumn season in Tuscany. While fresh porcini mushrooms are nearly impossible to find in the US, good-quality dried porcini mushrooms are widely available. Soaking dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water is a great way to bring out their flavor and it also produces a wonderful soaking liquid that is gold when added to soups and risotto.
This soup recipe is all about umami, a seemingly magical taste discovered by the Japanese in the 1900s. It runs all through this entire recipe, with browned sausage, sautéed mushrooms, reconstituted porcini mushrooms with their broth, Parmigiano Reggiano rinds, grated cheese, and toasted bread. The components come together to make this recipe much more than a simple soup, but is something to remember.
I also like to make a big pot of cooked beans this time of year for use in lots of recipes, including soups, chilis, and salads. While canned beans are a great product and will last nearly forever in your pantry, if you soak and cook your own dried beans, you can customize them with lots of aromatics, including herbs and onions. Once cooked, cooled, and stored in your fridge, it’s possible to use them and their broth in any number of ways for up to a couple of weeks. The key is to buy fresh, good-quality beans. Standard supermarket beans might have been on the shelf for years, so look for a source with a lot of stock turnover, whether at a brick-and-mortar store or online. My tips for cooking beans are found in Note 2 at the bottom of the recipe.
Another great trick to making winter soups–especially this one–is to add a Parmesan rind to the pot as the soup is cooking. My sister talked about this extensively in her last post, but simply put, never throw away the rind from a spent piece of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; instead, freeze them and add one whenever you want to add some depth and umami to soup.
Finally, some nice, crusty toasted bread is a perfect complement, to soak up some of the broth. Since Covid started in 2020, I’ve been trying my hand at bread baking. I was initially terrified and had lots of failures, but I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. The bread pictured here is based on a King Arthur Baking recipe for Sicilian bread. I’ve made it per the recipe but substituted the flour with 50/50 AP and finely ground Semolina flours. This bread takes me right back to the Sicilian bread of my childhood and the bread we found on our recent trip to Sicily.
Enjoy this warming soup on a winter 2024 night be assured, warmer days are ahead 🌴🏖️😎.Print
This soup is perfect for the cold days of winter and will serve about 4 people for a nice meal. Serve with a nice salad and some orange slices for dessert. You can easily increase the volume of this soup by adding more strained porcini soaking liquid, chicken stock and/or beans and their broth. Just be sure to cook a little while to incorporate and adjust the salt and pepper.
- Cannellini beans, 2 15-oz cans – or – dry beans soaked and cooked (see Note 1)
- 1 oz good quality dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 4 cups of boiling water.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound sweet Italian pork sausage
- 1 small/medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 8 ounces meaty mushrooms such as cremini or oyster, roots/stems trimmed and mushrooms sliced
- 1 big bunch of spinach, thick stems removed, cleaned in a water bath (see important Note 2 for cleaning spinach)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- A small bunch of herbs, tied with kitchen string, such as a sprig of rosemary, several sprigs of thyme and/or a bay leaf
- A Parmesan cheese rind
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
- Sliced and toasted rustic bread
- Salt and pepper
- Whether using canned or dried beans soaked and cooked, separate the beans from the broth using a strainer. Reserve the bean broth.
- Place a medium-sized dutch oven over medium heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil. When hot, add the sausage and brown all over. Remove to a plate. The sausage will be undercooked inside – that’s ok!
- Add another 1 tbsp of olive oil to the dutch oven. When hot add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir and cover to let the onions sweat. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the onions are soft. If they start to burn, lower the heat or add more olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more until you start to smell the garlic.
- Add the butter and the prepared sliced mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are wilted. Then add the prepared spinach and cook until wilted.
- Lift the soaked porcini mushrooms out of the soaking liquid, leaving the grit behind. Add to the pot and stir.
- Strain the porcini soaking liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel to remove the grit. Add ½ cup of the soaking liquid to the pot, reserving the rest. Also add the 1 ½ cup chicken broth to the pot. Add the parmesan rind to the pot. Also add the herb bundle.
- Raise the heat to medium and bring to a light boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook of about 30 minutes to bring all the flavors together. If needed, add more porcini broth and/or chicken broth.
- Slice the sausage into rounds and add to the pot. Remove the herbs. Add about 2 cups of the beans with about 1 cup of the bean broth.
- Bring back to a simmer and cook for about 15 mins to bring everything together and finish cooking the sausage. Remove the parmesan rinds if you desire. Taste and adjust salt and add pepper as you like.
- Serve with some sliced and toasted rustic bread and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
- If you have access to good quality dried cannellini beans, soaking and cooking your own beans is a great way to make a batch of beans for use in lots of recipes. A 15-oz can of beans is about equivalent to ⅔-cup of dried beans.The night before cooking, rinse the dried beans and add to a medium sauce pot and cover with lots of water to soak overnight. The next day, drain the beans and place back in the same pot. Cover with about 3-inches of fresh water and add some aromatics (such as ½ an onion, bay leaf or herbs like rosemary or thyme. Bring to boil and reduce to a low simmer. Check every 15 mins until the beans are tender (add more water if needed). Let cool to room temperature and pick out the aromatics. Place the beans and the liquid in a container and store in the fridge. They’re good for about a week. The bean liquid is great to thicken soups and stews.
- Fresh spinach is almost impossible to clean by rinsing it off. Instead, remove the unwanted stems and place in a very large bowl or your sink with the drain plug installed. Fill with cold water to float the spinach. Agitate the spinach letting the dirt and grit fall to the bottom of the bowl or sink. Lift the spinach out the water into a strainer. Empty bowl or sink, clean out the sand and repeat 2 more times.