soup's on

You know it's fall when your thoughts turn to soup when planning dinner. It's been very cold here—38 degrees yesterday morning—so soup sounded like the perfect thing to warm us up.

One of my favorite go-to soups is this white bean one from The Silver Palate Cookbook. It involves some chopping of ingredients but isn't too time-consuming if you substitute canned beans for the dried. I'm usually not a big fan of canned veggies, but beans (and tomatoes, for that matter) are nearly as good as fresh. And, around here, all you're going to find in the winter.

White Bean and Sausage Soup with Red Peppers

4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 parsley sprigs
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1-1⁄4 cups dried white beans, soaked overnight (or 2 cans white beans)
2 sweet red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 pound hot Italian sausage, precooked
salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a pot. Add onions, carrots, and garlic and cook, covered, over low heat until vegetables are tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes.

Add parsley, thyme, and bay leaf and pour in the stock. Drain the beans and stir them into the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until beans are very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (If you're using canned beans, you just need to heat them up for about 15 minutes. And I usually add the liquid from the can, too.)

Pour the soup through a strainer, reserving the stock. Discard the bay leaf and transfer the solids to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or use a food mill fitted with a medium disk. Add 1 cup of the cooking stock if using the processor and process until smooth.
Return pureed soup to the pot and stir in additional cooking liquid, 2 to 3 cups, until the soup is of desired consistency. (I'm not as fussy as this. I blend it all together in the food processor—in batches—the consistency is fine.)

Cut away stems and ribs of the peppers and dice them. Heat olive oil in a small skillet, add peppers and saute over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but still crunchy, about 15 minutes. Transfer peppers to the soup with a slotted spoon.

Dice the cooked sausage, and add it to the soup. Set over medium heat and cook, partially covered, until heated through, about 15 minutes. Season to taste and serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Serve it with a crusty baguette. Leftovers, if you have any, reheat really well for lunch the next day. I think you could easily make this a vegetarian dish by substituting vegetable stock for the chicken, and leaving out the sausage. The sausage adds a nice bit of spiciness but it's plenty flavorful without it.

For dessert I tried Ina Garten's Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp recipe with a combination of apples—a few leftovers from a recent trip to the farmer's market and a few from our trees. I agree with some of the commenters that it turned out a bit too wet so, next time, I may add a bit of flour to the filling or cut down on the juice. The flavor was wonderful so the recipe is definitely a keeper.

Now it's time to dig out some of my winter sweaters. If it doesn't warm up today I'm going to need them :)