As fall settles in here in the Midwest, our tiny garden is mostly shutting down. The tomatoes are over, the basil looking forlorn. But our sage is still going to town. So when I came across a recipe for Tuscan-style white beans that used sage on Saveur’s website, I mentally filed it away.
Then overnight temperatures in the 40s last weekend had us turning on the furnace and me thinking of soup. Specifically, a white bean soup with sage. Turns out, Italians aren’t the only ones who think white beans and sage play nicely together. French and British cooks like the combination, too. White beans, sage, chicken broth, and onions or shallots are constants in soup recipes, no matter the country. Garlic, carrots, potatoes, ham, and cream are among the many variables.
In making this version, I threw in a couple of variables of my own. Some wine, because I like how it turns things that taste like gravy into things that taste like sauce. And some kielbasa, because I found myself at the meat counter in the wonderful, fragrant Kurowski’s Sausage Shop this weekend.
Chunks of ham, leftover chicken or other kinds of sausages would also work in this soup. And honestly, it’s hearty enough that you could forgo meat altogether. But I like the added flavor the occasional bite of meat adds. Regarding that, at first I considered browning the kielbasa pieces in the pan first, to flavor everything else. I decided to add it at the end, letting the other flavors come forward.
White bean soup with sage and sausage
Serves 3 to 4 as a meal, 6 or more as a first course
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, chopped, about 1 cup (or yellow onions)
2 carrots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage (or 1-1/2 teaspoon dried)
3 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine [editor's note: may substitute cooking wine]
Freshly ground black pepper
4 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or 1 pound dried beans – see Kitchen Notes)
5 to 6 ounces kielbasa, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin half moons
Salt (if needed)
1. Heat butter and oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium flame. Sweat shallots and carrots in butter/oil mixture, stirring frequently, until shallots are soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Clear a space in the middle and add garlic and sage. Cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring.
2. Add broth and wine, then beans, and stir to combine. Season generously with pepper. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from heat. Transfer 3 cups of soup to a food processor and (carefully – it’s hot) purée. Return puréed soup to pot, add kielbasa and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Depending on how salty your broth and beans are, you may or may not need to add salt. Ladle soup into bowls and serve.
Canned or dried beans? We use canned beans a lot because they’re just so darned convenient. Canned beans make this a recipe you can throw together on a weeknight. If you prefer to use dried beans, they’ll need a soak. You can soak them overnight, the traditional approach, or use a quick soak method that has them ready to cook in an hour or so. Cooking time can be anywhere from 1 to 2 hours; just judge by the tenderness of the beans. Also note that older dried beans may require more cooking time. Here are both soaking methods, as I described them in a recipe for Senate Bean Soup:
Soaking beans, slow and fast. Whichever method you choose, pick through the beans first to remove any pebbles and shriveled looking beans and then give them a quick rinse.
Slow: Soaking beans overnight is simplicity itself. Just place them in a large pot or bowl and cover with water by at least three inches. Soak them overnight, drain and rinse. They are now ready to cook.
Fast: Place picked over and rinsed beans in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover with cold tap water by at least three inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 2 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot and let beans soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse. They’re now ready to cook.