Tuesday, March 05, 2013

We'll miss you, Grandma May...

At least four of my friends have lost beloved family members over the past couple of weeks, and I have been feeling very sad for their grief and loss. It's hard to know how to console people during such a difficult time, but I usually bring gifts of comfort food. When you're mourning the loss of a loved one, you often don't think about taking care of yourself, and cooking is probably the last thing on your mind or that you have the energy to do.

Last week, my colleague and dear friend, Janice's 82-year-old mother-in law, Domenica (who we called May or Grandma), passed away from acute leukemia. It was very fast, so maybe that was a blessing, but it was also so unexpected that it was quite a shock. Grandma lived with Janice and her family for half the year, and the other half in Florida. Since she lived in Plattsburgh half the time, I was friends with May, too, and she and I bonded, especially over cooking and reading. She loved the Twilight books, and she went with us to the midnight premiere of each of the films. She was also a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey series--tee hee! She was a dear, dear lady, and she was very loved and will be missed very much.

As much as the Padulas have done for me over the years, truly welcoming me into their family, I really wanted to do more than just send some flowers. What I wanted to do was to cook a huge meal for the whole extended family that came into town and take it over to their house, but I am still cooking in a very limited kitchen without a stove top or oven. So I turned, as I often do, to my trusty crock pot and whipped up a big batch of hearty, comforting soup. Cooking for the Padulas is sometimes a challenge, because two of them are avoiding wheat and processed foods, one can't have MSG, and one is allergic to pork. So I decided to make an Italian-style soup with whole grains and beans (starting with a mix from Bob's Red Mill), a flavorful chicken sausage instead of pork, and some winter kale for color and texture and extra nutrients.

Whole Grains and Beans Soup with Spicy Chicken Sausage and Kale

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red onion, chopped
1 medium leek (white and pale green part), rinsed well and sliced
1 cup celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (or four!)
14 oz chopped tomatoes (I used Italian-style)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon paprika, plus 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional--you can use all sweet)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 cups (2 quarts) vegetable stock or broth (up to 10 cups, if needed)
1 3/4 cups Bob's Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix (half the package)

1/2 bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1 lb. spicy chicken sausage, casings removed

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then saute the onion, leek, and celery until tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Scrape the veggies into a crock pot and add the tomatoes (with juice), all of the seasonings, the vegetable stock, and the grains and beans. Cook on low for about eight hours or high for four hours--or until the beans are tender. (Add another couple cups of stock if the soup is too thick.)

When the soup is almost done, remove the bay leaf, add the chopped kale and continue to cook until sufficiently wilted. Meanwhile, crumble up the chicken sausage in a skillet and brown. Add the cooked sausage to the soup, stir to combine, then serve piping hot, perhaps with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

1 comment:

Randi said...

You should sell your soups, they always look so hearty and delicious.