Soups, Stew, and Chili

Bill’s Favorite Italian Sausage Stew
We like to make this super stew with a spicy Italian or Italian-spiced turkey sausage. Cooking for a crowd? This recipe is infinitely expandable, infinitely variable. Serve with hot herb bread and a salad for a satisfying meal.

1 pound sausage, loose or cased
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 medium carrots sliced/chopped
2 large Russet potatoes peeled and diced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, or 1 tablespoon dried
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried
Salt & pepper to taste
Garnish: grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Flavorful variations: baby spinach leaves or chopped spinach (fresh or frozen); shredded cabbage; fresh, frozen, or canned corn; canned white beans; canned black beans; pasta (substitute for potato): shell, rotini, orzo

Crumble the sausage into a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and cook for 5 more minutes. Add chicken broth, water, carrots, potatoes, red pepper, and tomatoes. If you’re adding other vegetable options (spinach, corn, beans) do so now, and raise the heat to bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add herbs in the last 7-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Top each bowl with grated cheese.

A Dilly of a Soup
Herbs are a sprightly addition to soups or beans that come in a can. To warm up your family and raise their spirits on a cold day, try these easy ideas. Top each bowl with a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkling of herb croutons.

• Add a quarter-cup of chopped mint leaves to split pea soup.
• Add 2 teaspoons of fresh minced basil and a squeeze of lemon to canned tomato soup.
• Sauté one-half cup chopped onions and 2 minced garlic cloves until soft. Place in blender with a can of black beans and puree. Add water or chicken broth for “soupy” consistency and heat.
• To canned gazpacho, add one-quarter cup snipped onion tops (from your windowsill garden), 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or two teaspoons fresh), one-half teaspoon fresh or dried thyme.
• Add one-half teaspoon nutmeg to a can of broccoli-cheese soup.
• To canned cauliflower-cheese soup, add 2 teaspoon fresh minced dill and one-quarter teaspoon dry mustard.

A Thymely Potato-Leek Soup
Hearty enough for a main dish, extra good on a chilly soup-and-sandwich evening.

3-4 leeks
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 cups chicken stock
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup half-and-half (you can substitute milk)
2 tablespoon fresh minced thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley and chives for garnish

Slice the root ends from the leeks, and remove the fibrous dark green tops (save to add to your next pot of vegetable stock). Slice lengthwise, wash, and chop the leeks. Heat the butter or olive oil in a medium-size stock pot. Add leeks and onion. Cover and cook over low heat until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add potatoes. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked, 18-20 minutes. Add thyme in the last 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Lightly mash the potatoes in the stock, using a masher or spoon. Stir in milk, add salt and pepper to taste. Reheat before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley and chives. Serves 4.

Green Herb Soup
In Germany, the Thursday before Easter is called Gründonnerstag, or Green Thursday. This was a fast day, when only a single, meatless meal was eaten. Green spring vegetables, like this soup, made up a large part of that meal.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 green onions, minced
1 medium leek, chopped
4 cups water
2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup chives, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/2 cup celery leaves, chopped
1/2 cup sorrel, watercress, or arugula leaves, chopped
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Garnishes: sour cream, croutons, fresh herbs

Melt butter in a 3 quart soup pot. Add green onions and chopped leek and sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft, 5-7 min. Add water and chopped potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the potatoes until tender, 18-20 minutes. Add the greens and herbs and simmer for 10 minutes. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the milk, salt and pepper. Mix well. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, croutons, or fresh herbs.

Lady Bird Johnson’s Pedernales Chili
First, run out to the range and rope a longhorn cow. Wait, no. Just joking.

Seriously, Lady Bird’s Texas chili, which originated on the Johnson family ranch, was hugely popular in the 1960s. The First Lady had cards printed with the “Pedernales River Chili” recipe and mailed to satisfy the thousands of requests that came in from around the country. She said that it was almost as popular as the government pamphlet on the care and feeding of children.

In Texas, this chili, as is, has an almost mythic significance and isn’t to be tinkered with. However, we prefer to add a 15-ounce can of Ranch Style BBQ beans. Adventurous souls may add beer, whiskey, balsamic vinegar, coffee. Other possibilities: dried ancho peppers or chipotle peppers, anchovies, and peanuts. (But before you add extras, read Chile Death, China’s seventh adventure, where you will learn about the idiosyncrasies and etiquette of making Texas chili.)

4 pounds beef, coarsely ground (chili-grind, which is chunkier than hamburger-grind)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (I use 4 or 5)
1 teaspoon oregano, dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I use 2)
6 teaspoons chili powder (or more–taste as you go)
2 (16-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, cut up (or 1 can whole, 1 can crushed)
2 to 6 dashes hot sauce, to taste
Salt to taste
2 cups hot water

In a large frying pan, brown meat with onion and garlic until meat is lightly browned; transfer ingredients to a large heavy kettle or cast-iron Dutch oven. Add oregano, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes, hot sauce, salt, and hot water. Bring just to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 hour. Remove from heat. Skim off grease and serve to 12.

Source: Pedernales River Chili Recipe is from the Lone Star Legacy, a cookbook published by the Austin Junior Forum in 1981. Great cookbook: 800+ recipes, Texas trivia, photos of Texas landscapes. Favorite Texas recipes: Lake Austin Cooler, Lone Star Ribs, Frijoles Borrachos, and Lady Bird’s chili. Long out of print, but you’ll find used copies online.

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Inspired by Olive Garden’s popular soup, this is a good use for leftover rotisserie chicken. I’ve also made it with precooked shrimp and imitation crab. If I’m using seafood, I substitute white cooking wine for the chicken broth.

1 pound gnocchi (we like mini-gnocchi)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced or shredded carrots, whichever you prefer
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups half and half
2 cups shredded or cubed cooked chicken
2–3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped

Prepare the gnocchi and set aside. Over medium heat, in 2-3 kettle, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the onions, celery, carrots, red bell pepper, garlic, and herbs and cook until softened, 5-8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the flour and blend. Gradually whisk in the chicken broth, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Gradually whisk in the half and half. Stir in the chicken. Simmer slowly for 20 minutes. Add the prepared gnocchi and spinach. Cook until the spinach has wilted.