A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kale and Mushroom Soup with Pasta Elbows

Dear Readers, I gave you a little pinto-bean-free reprieve for the weekend (and holiday, for those of you who acknowledge such occasions) — can you therefore bear to hear about just one more bean w/ham hock reincarnation?  This one is good, I promise, and the most unlike the original dish so far.  And the best part is that it used up all the remaining beans, so you won't be having to hear any more about that enduring dish after this.

Please don't resent me for trotting out bean recipe after bean recipe.  After all, Picasso had his blue period.  Isn't it only fair for me to be allowed to go through a bean period?  (I am not meaning to imply that I am the Picasso of leftovers, but if you'd like to indulge that association, I will not thwart you.)
Maybe these people would cheer up if they ate some beans with ham hock.
What follows is a step-by-step guide to how I converted this

into this

Step 1: Make or otherwise obtain some stock.  I'm going to dispense with instructions for the stock, since I've recently blogged about this.  You can make your own out of whatever you have lying about, or just open up some cans.  I used about 3 cups of stock in this recipe, which made at least 10-12 servings.
This was an all-vegetable stock sweetened with a half-cup or so of an Orvieto wine that was a bit too cloying to drink.   The deep red color comes from the plethora of purple veggie ends I had in my stockpile: beets, red cabbage, purple chard.  I made the stock in the morning of the day on which I made the beans.

Step 2: Pre-cook your pasta.  I used half a package of whole wheat elbows.  Like me, you will probably want to choose one of the smaller pasta shapes or even the tiny pastina for soup, but I will not stand in your way if you want jumbo shells or even sheets of lasagna floating around in your bowl.

This imported Italian organic pasta cost only $1.99.  The equivalent non-generic brand was $2.99.  I was so pleased with myself for saving this buck that I bought a $20 bottle of Moulin-à-Vent as a reward.
Step 3: Prepare your veggies.  I cleaned/chopped a head of kale, reserving the stems for next week's stock.  I also sliced a package of fresh shiitake mushrooms, again throwing the stems into my stockpile.  Then I sliced a leek into half-rings, saving the — I think you get it by now — then washed the pieces thoroughly in water to remove the grit.

All ready to be added to the soup
Step 4: Prepare your spices.  For this soup, I used a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds and half a teaspoon of ground asafetida.  This latter "spice" is actually a resin used in Indian cooking for its purported digestive benefits.  I have come to enjoy the earthy flavor and aroma it imparts and often use it even in non-Indian dishes.  In the picture, you can see one of the little rocks it comes in as well as what I ground up in the mortar.

Cumin seed, asafetida
When I first started cooking Indian, I was living in Germany with my then boyfriend and could not find asafetida in any stores there.  So I asked my parents to look for some in the Indian market near their NJ home.  When they went shopping, the proprietor kept asking them if they were SURE it was asafetida they wanted — I guess not that many Western couples ever entered that shop, much less requested the smelliest item in their inventory.  My parents were able to convince the shop owners to sell them a container of the resin, and they wrapped it up and mailed it to my APO address in Germany.  When it arrived, the pungent smell reeking through the many layers of packing material gave away the identity of the contents before I even unwrapped it.

We were a bit taken aback by the strong, sulfurous smell of the asafetida (the word doesn't contain FETID for nothing!), but we immediately fell in love with the flavor.  Unfortunately, that original batch was the last pure asafetida I've ever been able to find.  All I have run across in the Indian markets in NYC is an adulterated version in which the resin is mixed with a base of cornstarch or some such material.  You have to use a lot more of this type to get the same level of flavor, and it really never achieves the same potency as the "real" stuff.  Any readers out there know where to obtain pure asafetida?

Step 5: Heat up to a half cup of EV olive oil in a soup pot over a medium-high flame.  When the oil is hot, toss in the ground asafetida, which will foam up a bit, and, after a second or two, the cumin seeds.

Cooking the spices in oil — a flavor-enhancing step I gleaned from Indian cookery.
Step 6: After another few seconds, when the cumin seeds have browned a bit, add the sliced leek to the oil and cook for about 5 min, stirring occasionally, until the leek has softened.

Step 7: Add the sliced mushrooms and stir around for a few minutes, until they have uniformly absorbed most of the oil.  (The mushrooms' super-absorbency is why you have to use so much oil in this recipe.)

Step 8: Add the leftover beans and the bones from the ham hock.  Any meat that remains should be shredded before adding.  (We hadn't much meat left by this point, so I was thinking that this would be an almost vegetarian dish.  Excepting those big chunks of porcine tibia, of course.  Now that I think about it, "almost vegetarian" is about as sensible a phrase as "almost a virgin.")

Step 9: Immediately add the stock, plus enough water to completely cover the bones and everything.  I ended up adding the 3 C of stock and maybe 2 additional cups of water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well.

Step 10: After the stock comes to a simmer, put the chopped kale in the pot and cover.  When the greens wilt enough to stir in, do so, then let the soup simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.  Add the cooked/drained pasta, stir it in, and let it simmer for several more minutes until everything is heated through.

Just after adding the kale (before wilting)
Step 11: Remove the bones, stir the soup well to make sure the remaining ingredients are well combined, and serve.

I spiced mine up with hot sauce and accompanied by slices of whole grain toast with melted cheese.  (The next day — out of hot sauce — we tried a delicious variation: stir a big blob of garlicky hummus into each serving.)

This chocolate-flavored stout — you'd think I would've shrunk at the very idea, but I am a sucker for (almost) all things chocolate — looked pretty in our glasses, but was undrinkably strange.  (Peter thought it tasted like flat beer with Bosco.)  I switched to a glass of the cloying Orvieto after a valiant few sips of the stout.

We won't be getting stout drinking this abomination.  I guess Mr. Young took a look at Reese's success, and tried his own hand at combining 2 great tastes.  Back to the drawing board, Mr. Young!  We'll be imbibing our stout and our chocolate separately from now on.
A wonderful bowl of hearty, nourishing soup.  There is another Tupperware in the fridge with several more servings that I look forward to having for lunches during the coming week.....and at some point in the future when I thaw the two additional containers I froze.  (For just how long can one stretch a single package of beans?  Or one blog topic?)


  1. There's a recipe for Chocolate Stout Cake on Finecooking.com, if you have some left over. We couldn't drink it either. Obviously an acquired taste. Your soup looks wonderful - not an acquired taste

  2. Oops! Not realizing that chocolate stout could be incorporated into something tasty, I used the rest as a kitchen-sink drain rinse.

  3. Yuck, chocolate stout just lacks any appeal! DH recently bought some spiced ale at Trader Joe's--it's also an odd mixture so he doesn't need to worry about sharing.

  4. Chocolate stout! Sounds awful, but your soup sounds delish. And I'm loving the new Sunny Citrus pic!