Beans and kale soup guards against winter’s ills

Pests creep in, hunker down in corners, and refuse to scram. There’s no ridding the house of bikes.

They lounge in the hallway, the closet, the bedroom. I frown. I scowl. I point to the garage or basement or porch. They lean their taut frames against the walls and taunt: Make me.

They have accomplices: men with strong legs and strong wills. They have reasons: fear of rust, abduction, loneliness. And so we live together: equal standing for those with feet and those with wheels.

There are more of them than us; I acquiesce.

I stick to the kitchen, where on chill days I simmer a soup crowded with beans and greens. It’s wholesome and healthful, a steamy inoculation against germs. If only it worked on other infestations.

Winter Bean Soup

Prep: 30 minutes, plus soaking time

Cook: About 2 hours

Makes: 4 servings

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 leeks, white and pale green sliced into matchsticks, soaked, drained, dried

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 sprig each: fresh rosemary, fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

3 cups plumped cannellini beans, see note

1/2 cup cubed ham

1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes

2 quarts chicken broth

2 cups thinly sliced lacinato kale leaves

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Soften: In a large pot, heat oil over medium-low. Tumble in leeks, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and the crushed red pepper.

Simmer: Tie together rosemary, thyme and bay leaf; toss this bundle into the pot. Stir in beans, ham and tomatoes. Pour in 6 cups broth. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer. Cover and let simmer until beans turn tender and flavorful, about 1 hour 45 minutes for dried beans, about 30 minutes for canned.

Adjust: As the beans simmer, add some of the remaining broth, if need be. The goal is a broth swimming with beans, not a thick chili-style mash.

Serve: When beans are tender, taste the broth and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Discard herb bundle. Stir in kale, cover, and cook tender, about 10 minutes. Scoop soup into bowls. Dust with Parmesan. Enjoy hot.

Note: Cover 1/2 pound dried cannellini beans with cold water and let soak overnight, drain and rinse; or cover 1/2 pound dried beans with cold water, boil 1 minute, let soak 1 hour, drain and rinse; or open two 15-ounce cans of beans, drain and rinse. (If using canned beans, cut the salt in step 1 in half; taste before adding more.)

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