Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a time to be thankful for friends and family – and for the person who will rise early to put a turkey in the oven.
I have such wonderful memories of holiday dinners at my grandmother’s home back in Wisconsin. She and Gramps lived almost next door. There was an empty lot between us. It was planted with lilac, mock orange and several beautiful blue spruce trees. It was glorious in the springtime.
For most of my childhood, Grandma had a wood stove in her kitchen. After raising four children, baking endless loaves of homemade bread, and preparing thousands of family meals, she knew all the quirks of that old stove. One of my biggest childhood thrills was being allowed to use the iron handle to move aside the heavy firebox cover and add a few sticks of wood.
If I could have just a few hours of my childhood back, it would certainly take place on Thanksgiving or Christmas in my grandparents’ home, surrounded by my family.
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These days, our stoves are much different, but the fragrance that begins to drift through the house is just the same. Is anything more welcoming than the smell of a turkey in the oven? The vegetarians just have to forgive me this one.
The next day, after everyone has picked to their hearts’ content, an ugly carcass is left behind, a few unappetizing dried bits clinging to it. My suggestion is to make your own batch of broth and turn it into a delicious Tuscan-style bean soup.
During your Thanksgiving shopping, pick up a bunch of Italian kale. It’s very dark green with long, narrow, frilly leaves. It’s readily available at the Olympia Farmers Market. Kale is a good source of dietary fiber and protein as well as a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
Pull apart the turkey carcass and put everything into a large pot. Include any leftover fat and drippings from the pan. It can be skimmed off later but adds significant flavor to the finished broth. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Allow it to simmer at a low temperature for three or four hours.
Remove from heat and cool. Strain out all the bones and other pieces. They have given their all to the broth and need to go. Put the broth through a very fine mesh strainer once or twice to remove all the tiny bits. If you want to reduce it, clean out the pot and simmer for another hour or two. Either skim off the fat as it cooks or let it cool and remove the fat then.
Tuscan recipes call for cannellini beans. I much prefer to start them from scratch rather than to use canned. Bring a cup and a half to boil in two or three cups of the turkey broth. You also can use water and a scoop of Better Than Boullion chicken base or a two-quart box of chicken broth. If you want to make this vegetarian, skip the above steps and use water or vegetable broth.
Allow the beans to simmer for an hour at low heat, adding broth or water as needed. Turn off the heat and let them sit for an hour or two. Then turn the heat back on and add about a quarter cup of sun-dried tomatoes. I use scissors to cut them into thin slivers. Add about a teaspoon of dried thyme and a tablespoon of non-salt seasoning like Mrs. Dash or 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s. I added about a quarter cup of dried minced onion. You could also chop up a medium onion and sauté for a few minutes in butter or peanut oil and add to the soup. Simmer until the beans are tender, about an hour.
When you are ready to finish the soup, cut the tough stems out of about six to eight Italian kale leaves. Make a tight bundle of the remaining leaf halves. Cut into thin slices and add to the pot.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spritz with cooking spray. From a package of hot Italian sausage, use a spoon to remove small hunks (about one teaspoon full) and put them on the baking sheet. The hot Italian sausage really isn’t anything like hot. Plus, you are adding it to a very mild soup to further mitigate any fear of too much heat. Use about half of the package. Put the baking sheet into a 400-degree oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until well browned. I also wanted a little bacon flavor so I cut up just one piece of thick-cut bacon into small pieces and pan fried it until crisp.
Add the browned sausage bits and bacon to the pot along with the kale. Continue simmering until the kale is tender. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. For a vegetarian version, use one of the excellent Tofurkey sausage products. Add a pat of butter to add richness.
If you follow tradition and hit the stores after Thanksgiving, you will be so grateful that you made a batch of this savory soup to come home to.
Cannellini beans, dried (11/2 cups)
Chicken broth, 2-quart box (if you don’t make your own)
Dried, minced onion or fresh onion
Hot Italian sausage, a 1-pound package
Bacon, thick cut
Salt and pepper