Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Year, New Recipe!

I definitely made the Naughty List this Christmas, if the scale has any say in the matter. Life was a Banquet, and I was not one of the poor suckers starving to death this year - Auntie Mame would have been proud! Between cookies, family feasts,  party dips,  hors d'oeuvres, pastries, my personal introduction to the Peppermint Bark Martini*, and several pickup gigs who wanted homemade Mac & Cheese, I am now sporting the jolly round belly that shakes when I laugh like a bowlful of jelly.

It just so happens, this year I also have an added reason to harden my New Years' Resolve when it comes to dieting: my wedding is in 269 days. So, needless to say, I'm pulling up my great big baggy chef pants and hitting the kitchen for all I'm worth.

What? You thought I'd say gym? Yuck. Nothing tastes good in the gym. Salty, maybe, but eww. The only thing to eat around there is bottle water.  This is a cooking blog, people! we COOK our way thin around these parts! Look at this wonderful warm pot of goodness, and tell me you wouldn't rather smell this than whatever that funk is coming off the weight bench:

Ooh, ahh. White Bean & Sausage Ragout with Kale & Tomatoes. I feel thinner already.

THIS is lovely. It smells like heaven. It is warm, and wonderful, and completely delicious and anyone would eat it any time of year - but I gotta say, given how fierce the winter weather has been this year already, SO much more satisfying than a salad. And, you still get a good hearty crunch, unlike most stews. It has ridiculously hedonistic amounts of sausage in it, enough that you're going to do a double-take when you see it all piled up in your crockpot. It is still also freakin' amazingly healthy, packed with nutrients and protein and very low fat;  plug it into any calorie counter and see for yourself. Also? The portion size is enormous. Volumetrics, baby, for the win!

AND it's one of those incredibly flexible recipes that you can do all kinds of playing with to suit your own tastes. Yes, it's playful. I'd rather play than work(out) any day. I lifted the original inspiration for this recipe from Cooking Light. I'm not always a fan of their stuff; they tend to run on the spicy side as a way to boost flavor as a substitute for fat. I get why they do that, but I wish they'd do more experimenting with a wider range of cooking techniques and ingredients instead of "bringin' the heat" so often.

That being said, let's talk a moment about what is called a ragoût in French, which is pronounced "ragoo" just like the familiar jars of Ragu tomato sauce from the supermarket shelves. While an Italian ragù is a sauce for pasta, and ALWAYS has meat as an ingredient,  the French ragoût is really a stew served as a main course and the meat is optional. The word in French comes from a verb that translated means "to wake up the taste". So, the closer-to-Rome heritage of pasta as an early course in an Italian meal, served before the entree, waking up your taste buds with meat, while in the countryside of France, meat being more scarce, they were counting this vegetable-laden, possibly meatless stew as the main meal. Two Romance languages sharing the same etymology evolved into two completely different culinary heritages, both are distinctly true to their own cultures and histories, even though the word sounds exactly the same when spoken. Though I will say this, once you've tasted a REAL Italian ragù? After a life of the jarred stuff we all grew up with? You may find yourself mentally shouting J'accuse! J'accuse l'imposteur! as you wheel your shopping cart past that shelf every week. And to make all of this even more confusing, the recipe I've prepared is the French form of the food - as stew - but I've used Italian flavors for the ingredients and seasonings. It's just an orgy of multiculturalism around here. Because America. You're welcome.

So here is the recipe, it's easy, and it's as cheap-cheap-cheap as you can get without eating birdseed. Because let's face it, the holiday bills for most folks mean their budget this month is on a renewed diet as much as their body is. Having a heart bigger than your wallet is never a sign of bad character. I'll also post the nutrition info from Oh, and a heads-up before I send you off to make this on your own, so you don't end up cussing my name in both languages: my crockpot is huge. 7 1/2 quarts. And this doesn't all fit with the Kale added. I stirred the fresh raw Kale into our individual bowls at the end of cooking for our family's first serving, then dumped in the rest when we had the "room" in the pot. And it's even better reheated.

Final hint:  Chop the Kale first and the chicken last or use 2 cutting boards AND sanitize your chef's knife. The kale is added RAW, it won't get brought to a boil, so you aren't cooking it long enough to kill cross contamination. Use the same safe handling procedures and care with raw chicken sausage exactly the same as any raw chicken.

White Bean & Sausage Ragout with Kale & Tomatoes
Yield 12 servings, about 18 oz. each


1 large bunch fresh Kale, washed and roughly chopped width-wise across the rib (like you would chop Romaine lettuce for Caesar salad ) approximately 12 cups

1 large white onion, small chop (about 2 cups)

Garlic, 2 cloves, peeled and thin-sliced

2 lbs. Mild Italian Chicken Sausage (I used Natures Promise brand from our local Giant for both my recipe and the nutrition calculator), cut into 1-inch chunks, skin on, while raw

Tomatoes, canned, diced in juice, 28 oz. can

Great Northern Beans, 2 1/2 pound can (40.5 oz), drained and rinsed.

Pacific Natural Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Stock - 1 box (32 oz)


The easy way: Keep the Kale, raw,  in a separate bowl until soup is finished cooking. Place all of the other ingredients in a crockpot and cook on high 4 hours. 5 minutes before serving, stir kale into stew. Serve in generous portions.

The more-work, more-gourmet way: Brown the sausage in a pan first (doesn't need to be cooked through - just browned on the outside,  a classic braise technique) , then add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent. You may want a tiny drizzle of olive oil to help the onions. Add all into the crockpot,  deglaze the pan with some of the stock, scraping up the fond, and add all that into the pot as well. Add the tomatoes and beans. Cook for 3-4 hours on high. 5 minutes before serving, stir the kale in.

The "But Liz, I Hate Kale" way: Substitute 12 cups of fresh washed spinach leaves for the Kale. Or use a combination of spinach leaves and some fresh chopped basil (1/2 cup of fresh basil is a LOT of basil).  If you want some crunch and don't mind the stringiness, use fully grown spinach leaves (I'd wash them 3 times in warm water, then chop them and wash them again in a colander) - it saves money, but adult spinach is so annoyingly sandy. Ugh.

Other ideas for playing with this recipe: different beans, different flavors of chicken sausage (our Giant has chicken sausage made with sundried tomatoes... that's my next pot), spicier chicken sausage, adding more chopped vegetables into this (the original recipe called for zucchini, but my crew won't go for it. sigh.) I'd use fresh tomatoes (peeled) when they are in season. Throw in a Parmesan rind to flavor (would add calories, but taste great) Up the garlic, maybe try some lemon peel or rosemary.

Oh, so here's the awesome nutrition information: I really did put the whole recipe into MyFitnessPal and divide it by 12 servings, so yes, you can eat 1/12th of a pot for a mere 320 calories! For that you get 7 grams of fiber and 26 grams of protein (all that sausage and beans, very satisfying) and 24% of your day's Iron, with only 8 grams of fat. Not bad, huh?

And how kid-friendly is it? My kid ate it up. Loved it. Happily ate leftovers 2 nights later. Asked me to make it again in the future. The Man even took some into work for his lunch, with no suggesting on my part (I had actually hoped to have the leftovers for my own lunches for my slimming - doh!). I think the reason this recipe is so good, better, really than expected, was because being in a stew lets the chicken sausage stay nice and moist, unlike how it compares to pork sausage from being grilled as a preparation method. I don't think this would taste better with a pork or beef sausage, to be honest, it might be too fatty and greasy. The chicken sausage worked great.

*Helloooo new BFF! Where have you been all my life!?! I love youuuu!