Sausage & Spring Greens Soup

Spring in the Midwest is a brief affair — passing almost imperceptibly between winter and full-on summer. In February, you plan for spring. In March, you dare to expect spring. In April, you vow to make spring happen on your own, if necessary. In May, you’re pretty sure that the best parts of springtime have come and gone without your knowing. And in June… it’s summer. I’ve often wondered if spring isn’t some con foisted upon us unsuspecting, optimistic folk.

Somewhere in that tug of war between winter and summer, however, spring does theoretically arrive and when it does, that means one thing for sure: the return of the Farmer’s Market! We love our Farmer’s Market! When the opening day is announced, we scramble out of bed early knowing full well that the pickings will be slim on the first day. The Saturday morning jaunt to the market followed by a giant breakfast is a pleasant routine for us mid-May through October.

The key to a good Farmer’s Market experience is strategy:

    First, be there early — you’ll have more to choose from and maybe even get in on some special, early bird offerings.

    Second, walk through the entire market before making any decisions. There’s nothing worse than buying a bag of potatoes and then walking about 75 feet and seeing the world’s fanciest potatoes at an even cheaper price than you just paid!

    Third, try to get to know these local farmers and learn about their locations and their businesses.

Chances are, you could go to your nearby, big box grocery store and find produce, cheese, etc. for less money, but Farmer’s Markets offer something that those places can’t: knowing where your food comes from and who grew it. Shortening the distance from farm to table is what Farmer’s Markets are all about.

You also get a chance to buy varieties of produce that grocery stores can’t offer because they don’t ship well. Farmer’s Markets also make you more keenly aware of the seasons and how they should naturally affect your meal choices. You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize that strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and apples aren’t actually a year-round thing.

Speaking of eating according to the seasons, this recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks: Simply In Season. It’s chock full of basic recipes to help acquaint you with seasonal eating. I say the recipes are basic because they are those really sturdy kind of recipes that allow a lot of room for improvisation. Not only does each recipe specify several different ingredient options that might inspire you to try something new, the seasoning ingredients are relatively basic, allowing for you to really make a unique masterpiece.

Our favorite things to get at the Farmer’s Market in the spring are unique potato varieties, fresh greens, spring onions, local honey, the absolute freshest asparagus, beautiful fresh-cut flowers… I could go on forever.

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This soup recipe uses a few of those spring ingredients. Spring onions are something I didn’t discover until the Farmer’s Market, incidentally. They’re essentially baby onions and can be yellow, white, or red. Some people claim to taste a difference between the different colors… frankly, I don’t buy it, but to each his own. They’re picked just as the bulbs begin to form and before the greens get overly tough. Their taste is a little more pronounced than the more typical scallions, but they have a creamy butteriness that completely wins me over and makes them distinctly different compared to full-grown onions.

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Any potatoes you have on-hand would work for this soup, but since I was making a special “Farmer’s Market Edition”, I decided to use these Blue Russian potatoes. Blue Russians have a very deep bluish-purple interior. If you boil them whole with their skins on, they completely maintain their striking interior color. Once cooked, the skin turns an interesting purple color as well. The texture and taste of a Blue Russian potato is similar to some fingerling potatoes I’ve tried — smooth but not waxy. For this soup, they’re sliced fairly thinly, so you lose a little of that interior blue, but the skins still make it showy.

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This was our first time to try dandelion greens. If you didn’t already know, dandelions aren’t only useful in creating a daily weeding workout regimen; they’re quite tasty. Admittedly, after spending several days battling dandelions and other tenacious weeds, recently, it was eerily vindicating to ingest some of them! In the soup, they melded together nicely with the other ingredients and actually didn’t taste distinguishable from the baby kale. Then again, I tend to chop the greens very finely for this soup, so you’d be hard pressed to identify the dandelion greens! In case you were worried, neither the dandelion greens nor the baby kale have a bitter taste.

For my vegetarian pals who might be interested in trying the soup, let me know what meat equivalent ideas you come up with to try. Seitan may work, I suppose, but I’ve never tried any meatless sausages that I wanted to try again. If you’re trying to reduce your meat consumption (never a bad idea), I’ve made this soup with only 4 ounces of sausage and it was still very flavorful and filling.

Sausage & Spring Greens Soup
Serves 4

    8 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed (spicy or mild)
    1 cup chopped onion
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    4 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
    2 cups thinly sliced potatoes (with peel)
    1/2 teaspoon dried savory
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/4 teaspoon crushed or ground fennel seeds
    salt and pepper, to taste
    12 ounces evaporated milk (whole or 2%)
    4 cups finely shredded mixed greens (baby spinach, kale, dandelion, chard, etc.)

    In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, brown and crumble the sausage over medium-low heat. Remove the sausage, reserving about 2 teaspoons of the drippings in the pot (if you used really lean sausage, you may need to add a little olive oil at this point). Add the chopped onion and saute just until soft. Add the minced garlic and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

    Add the broth to the pot slowly, scraping the bottom to incorporate the brown bits. Add the sliced potatoes, savory, thyme, and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil and cover; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender (10-15 minutes). While you’re waiting, chop the cooked sausage into finer pieces, if necessary.

    Once potatoes are tender, return the cooked sausage to the pot. Add the evaporated milk and greens; stir well then cover. Without bringing the soup to a full boil, simmer until the greens are thoroughly tender (5-10 minutes, depending on your idea of tender greens).

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~ by Jason on May 29, 2010.

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