This soup is perfect for cold winter nights. The base is real vegetables, chopped up and cooked down, and it features great northern beans and polska kielbasa. It's perfect with a grilled cheese sandwich. I went with a relatively unhealthy meat because the rest of this is so responsible. Also, this recipe makes about 10-15 servings, so you're eating a fairly small amount of it per serving.
Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment
3 Large Celery Stalks
1 Garlic Head
4 Pounds of Tomatoes
1 1/2 cups of Dried Great Northern Beans (or 2-3 cans if you'd rather.)
1 pound Polska Kielbasa (or some other protein. This is a good time to use something indulgent because everything else in the soup is so responsible and healthy.)
Milk (I used skim, but anything from skim to cream would work.)
Salt and Pepper
Other seasonings to taste (I added Balsamic Vinegar)
Large Stock Pot
Slotted Spoon or Skimmer
Knives and a Cutting Board
Blender (optional, for converting a chunky vegetable soup in broth to a creamy soup)
Step 2: Early Prep
If you're using dry beans, clean them, rinse them, and soak them overnight or use the "quick soak" method as the package recommends. Start simmering them a little while before you start cooking the soup. Check them periodically, when they're done drain them into a colander and leave them until you're ready for them. If you're using canned beans you can ignore all of this. Just open the cans and drain off any extra liquid (rinse if you prefer.)
Step 3: Prepare the Vegetables
Blanch the tomatoes. I did this first so I could use the same pot for blanching and then cooking the soup.
-Fill a bowl with cold water.
-Boil enough water to cover the tomatoes.
-Once the water is at a full boil, place a couple of tomatoes into the water CAREFULLY.
-Boil until the skin splits, around 1 minute. Don't go more than 2 minutes.
-Remove the tomatoes from the water and put them into the cold water. A slotted spoon or skimmer works great for this.
-Once the tomatoes are cooled you can pull off their skin. Also trim out the core and any unsavory areas. Cut them in half and put them in a bowl until you're ready for them later (this helps collect up any liquid so you don't lose any delicious tomato flavor.)
Peel the carrots, pull the papery bits off of the garlic and cut off the root ends. Cut off anything else you don't want to eat from all these annoyingly unprocessed vegetables ;-) Chop the garlic, onions, celery and carrots.
Step 4: Sautee
Put a hearty dash of olive oil into the bottom of the stock pot. Heat it up over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, celery and carrots. Throw in some salt and pepper. Sautee this all together for a while. Keep stirring occasionally. You want the veggies to get soft and start to brown around the edges. Keep going until you start seeing pieces that are browned enough that they're almost burnt.
Step 5: Simmering
Add enough water to cover the veggies. Keep the heat on medium and keep stirring occasionally. The idea here is to cook the veggies until they are very soft. Add the tomatoes now, too. Once everything can be cut with the edge of whatever spoon you are using you're ready to continue.
Step 6: Blend
This step is optional but it makes for a very nice texture in your soup. Using you slotted spoon or skimmer, start pulling out some of the veggies. Make sure to get as much tomato as you can, and a lot of the other veggies. Leave some of it behind for texture if you'd like. Be careful adding this hot stuff to the glass blender, do it slowly so the glass has time to acclimate to the heat. Blend the veggies you pull out until they look like tomato soup. It should be an even color and very smooth. Add this blended goodness back to the pot.
Step 7: Finishing Up
If the soup is watery, simmer it for a while until it thickens up. As soon as it looks nice, add some milk (I added a cup of skim). Then add in the beans and chopped up polska. Keep simmering and stirring until everything is warmed through.
TASTE IT. My soup was surprisingly sweet. I added Worcestershire Sauce and Balsamic Vinegar, as well as more salt and pepper. This seemed to reduce the sweetness and balance out the flavors. Also, don't be afraid to add a little can of tomato paste if it needs it. Winter tomatoes like these can be a bit lower on flavor, and some bonus tomato can add a lot to the finished product.
Once you're content, serve it up. Once the left-overs cool a bit box them up and put them in the fridge or freezer. Around here the popular opinion is that this soup is much better the second time around, which is why this recipe is so large!