Having been born and raised some 24 years in the temperate climes of Southern California, stews, braises and all other things reserved for freezing weather were basically made out of novelty. Don’t get me wrong: I loved cooking a good stew, but the fact that cooking things over a low flame for a long period of time can essentially warm your house was lost on me completely (I mean, it’s always 65º in Los Angeles, right?)
…Until I moved across the country to a town with an actual winter! In turn, my stew novelty turns into stew necessity. In came Melissa Clark’s White Bean and Sausage Stew from the New York Times Dining section to save the day. I hung the mostly ripped clipping for a couple weeks on our fridge and put off making it until I realized it was 22º outside one day.
This is now our household’s go-to stew: it’s warming without feeling heavy; the beans basically get shoved out of their bag and into the pot (easy!); the vinegar adds an amazing brightness to the whole dish; and most of all, cooking it keeps my apartment nice and toasty. Novel, indeed.
Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew
Adapted from the New York Times, October 29, 2010
The last time I made this, I cooked some chopped bacon until crispy, then used the fat and some olive oil to soften the vegetables. I’m not part of the ‘bacon makes everything better’ camp at all, but I do like the extra smokiness. I also usually use 1/2lb each of sweet and hot Italian sausage, because I just love hot Italian sausage* and the extra oomph it provides. To end: don’t skimp on the balsamic vinegar. It just ties everything together perfectly.
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for serving
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, cut 3/4″ thick
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, cut 3/4″ thick
1/4 pound thick cut bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium carrots, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound dried Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked through
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 thyme sprigs
1 large rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, more for serving
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste.
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the chopped bacon. Cook until mostly crispy, and using a slotted spoon, put it aside with the sausage. Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, until dark golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, 8 cups water, salt, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours, adding more water if needed to make sure the beans remain submerged. I usually salt throughout this process as well.
When the beans are tender, return the sausage to the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve drizzled with additional vinegar and olive oil, and top with bacon.