Helen Rosner of the New Yorker published her go-to soup as an Instagram story. It went viral. I’m reproducing it as one of my collection of quick and dirty recipes for a no-fuss delicious meal. (I particularly enjoy Helen’s folksy descriptions of the preparation. I think I’d enjoy cooking with her.)
1 baseball-size onion, if you have one
2-4 cloves garlic (enough garlic to make up approximately the volume of your thumb)
1 lb. hot Italian sausage, or a well-seasoned vegetarian sausage
1 28-oz. can tomatoes (diced, crushed, or whole)
1 14-oz. can of beans of any type (kidney, great northern, garbanzo, etc.) or a similar quantity of cooked dried beans
4 cups stock of any sort, or a mix of 1 cup dry red or white wine and 3 cups water
1 bunch kale or any other green
Fresh-ground black pepper
Hard, salty cheese, like Parmesan or pecorino
Parsley, if you have any
1. Gather all your ingredients, and get out a large soup pot with a lid, and a wooden spoon. If your sausage is in a casing, remove it from the casing, so it’s like a paste of ground meat with seasonings in it, which is mostly all that sausage is. If you’re using vegetarian sausage or casing-free sausage, chop it into small pieces. Peel the onion and chop it into small pieces. Peel the garlic and finely mince it.
2. Put the olive oil and onions into the soup pot, and set it over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt (a pinch is about a quarter teaspoon) and stir. Slowly cook the onions until they start to become soft and translucent—this is usually about 4 minutes, but sometimes it takes as long as 7. Add the garlic and stir until you get hit with that nostalgic garlic-and-onion smell, about 1 minute. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the sausage to the pot. Stir, using your spoon to break up the sausage into pieces that could comfortably fit on a spoon. It’s better to overcook the sausage than to undercook it. For the best flavor, you want the pieces to begin to brown on the outside: they should look speckled with dark spots, like a leopard or a cute dog. This will take as long as 10 minutes. Be patient. You don’t have to stir constantly—just check on it every few minutes.
3. While the sausage is cooking, open the can of tomatoes, and open and drain the can of beans. Get your broth ready, or if you’re using water with wine, get that ready. De-stem the kale and chop it into smaller-than-spoon-size pieces.
4. When the sausage is starting to brown and looks and smells delicious, dump in the tomatoes (including all the liquid), the beans (it’s O.K. if there’s a little liquid left in the can and you add that, too), and the stock, and raise the heat to high in order to bring the whole thing to a simmer. (If you’ve used canned whole tomatoes, use your wooden spoon to break them into smaller pieces by violently crushing them against the side of the pot. You cannot over-crush the tomatoes.)
5. Once the soup has reached a simmer, add the kale. The pot will look extremely full, but don’t worry—the kale will collapse like an empty wedding gown as soon as you start stirring it in, which you should do. Once all the greens are in the pot, put the lid on, turn the heat down to medium-low, and let the whole thing simmer for about 5 minutes—or even longer if you want to, or if you have other things going on. Use this time to grate some of the cheese into a bowl, which you can reuse later to eat soup out of. You don’t need a lot of cheese—maybe a quarter cup, but it’s up to you.
6. Remove the lid from the pot and stir the greens into the soup. Taste the soup (use the wooden spoon; you’re less likely to burn your mouth) and consider how much salt and black pepper you think it needs. Then add half as much salt as you want to and twice as much pepper. Add a little more pepper. Dump in the shredded cheese and stir. Taste it again and see if you need more salt. (The secret is that the cheese has salt in it.)
7. Ladle the soup, which is very hot, into individual bowls. Buy some time for it to cool down by cutting a lemon into wedges and squeezing a wedge of juice into each bowl. If any lemon seeds fall out into the bowls, gently fish them out. Don’t drop the spent wedges into the bowls like they’re glasses of iced tea. If you have extra cheese, you can sprinkle it on top, and if you have parsley and want to chop up some parsley and put it on top, it’ll be good, but it’s also pretty great without it.