This was the kind of meal I wish I made more often.
My friend Kate joined me at Sam’s apartment on Saturday night. Our dinner was grounded in the remnants of other meals: a pair of sturdy goat bones left over from a roast at Marin Sun Farms, and a few wedges of week-old cornbread. We had a pound of red beans and a bunch of kale, a can of tomatoes and a bottle of good wine. From there it was a long and loving spin into soup: the bones became a stock, rich and animal-smelling, and the stock became the cooking liquid for the beans. We went grabbing through the kitchen for odds and ends to nestle into the soup pot–fresh thyme, whole allspice, the rind from a gargantuan wedge of Parmesan–and then set the whole thing simmering.
Sam pointed out that the soup smelled an awful lot like pizza. He wasn’t wrong.
When the beans were half-done, we nestled in an impossible quantity of kale shards and let them wilt and turn silky in the soup. Then we cut the Styrofoam-cornbread into cubes, tossed them with olive oil, and baked them until they turned into the world’s most divine croutons: golden-crisp on the outside, buttery and soft on the inside.
This was the kind of meal I wish I made more often. While the soup simmered and the croutons baked, the three of us drank wine a little too quickly and had long-ranging conversations about ethical theory and science fiction and the bizarre historical artifact that is the Gold Standard. Then we ate soup, thick warm-blanket soup with pillowy croutons on top, and for a while all the conversation was tucked off to the side in favor of “mmms” and “ahhhhs” and sighs of contentment. Because that’s what a good soup does: it gets you talking while it’s cooking, and shuts you up while you’re eating.
This is the kind of cooking that keeps me going. Cooking with people, with wine, with bits and drabs of other delicious meals, is quite possibly the best thing there is.
Meaty Red Bean and Kale Soup (serves 4-6)
1 lb (about 2 cups) red kidney beans, plus water for soaking
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling at the end
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium leek, halved and sliced
Pinch of crushed red chili flakes
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup red wine (something fairly full-bodied)
2 quarts (8 cups) beef, lamb or goat stock
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
8-10 allspice berries
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
1 bunch kale or collard greens, stemmed and cut into 2-inch-wide ribbons
Cornbread croutons (recipe below)
Place the beans in a large pot with cold water to cover. Bring to a vigorous boil, then turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans, then set aside. (Or, if you’re lazy and have the time, just let the beans soak in cold water overnight.)
In a stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add carrot, leek, red chili flake and a pinch of salt, and saute until the carrots are soft and the leeks are translucent, 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and saute an additional minute or two. Add tomatoes and wine and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the wine has reduced and the liquid in the pan has thickened. Add soaked beans, stock, thyme, bay leaf, allspice and Parmesan rind (if using). Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and skimming off any cloudy white foam that comes to the top.
After 1 hour, add the kale or collards to the soup. Simmer 1 more hour, or until the beans are fully cooked and the soup has coalesced. Remove and discard the inedible bits–thyme stems, bay leaf, allspice berries and Parmesan rind–then ladle soup into bowls. Top each bowl with a few cornbread croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.
Cornbread Croutons (makes about 2 cups)
2 cups cubed stale cornbread (storebought or homemade)
1-2 tbsp olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400º F, place an oven rack in the middle of the oven, and line a baking sheet with foil. Toss cornbread cubes with olive oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper, and spread them on the baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cornbread cubes are browned on one side, then turn all the cubes over and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until the croutons are browned and crisp on all sides–they’ll be soft and pillowy inside at first, and turn crunchy as they cool. Remove from oven and serve warm on top of soup, or let cool completely and toss into salad.