comfort food: white bean and sausage stew

Well, here it is – the week of Thanksgiving. I made my shopping list over the weekend, and my dear husband shopped for all the items for me on Sunday. My refrigerator is filled with all varieties of milk (skim, whole, cream, and buttermilk), eggs, lots of unsalted butter, apples, and celery. Apparently celery was on a 2 for 1 special, so now we have lots of celery. In fact, if you need any celery, I’m happy to share some with you.

We’re sometimes stumped on what to eat for dinner in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. It’s obvious that on Thursday we’ll have turkey. And we’ll be eating turkey and the various leftover side dishes during the next few days after Thanksgiving. The days leading up to the big day are filled with prep work – making pie crust, baking cornbread, baking biscuits – so a dish that is easy to make and comforting to the body and soul is in order.

Like soup. White bean soup to be exact.

Beans have been a staple in my house since I was a kid. Growing up, my parents often served us big bowls of stewed white beans flavored with a ham hock, especially on cool fall or winter nights. Those creamy, comforting beans were served with a side of skillet-baked cornbread, and to this day, I have a hard time eating a bowl of white beans without some cornbread to go with it.

The biggest obstacle I run into when I want to make beans is the soaking time. I’m a very last minute dinner planner, so I rarely remember to set the dry beans out to soak the night before. I saw an article in the New York Times by Melissa Clark a few weeks ago, and the title got my attention immediately. Her recipe immediately went on to my Must Make list.

Because of that whole health thing, I substituted chicken sausage for the sweet Italian sausage. The chicken sausage I chose was flavored with red and green peppers, and it turned out to be a good choice for the flavors in this stew. By the time we were ready to eat, the house was filled with the most amazing aromas – a heavenly blend of the sauteed sausage and aromatics combined with the garlic, thyme, and rosemary.

The true test of a meal in my home is whether the kids will eat it. This herbed white bean stew passed the test with flying colors as far as my six year old daughter is concerned. My four-year-old wouldn’t touch it the first night, but he happily ate the leftovers the second night. I’m counting this as a win on both counts.

The only thing missing? I forgot to make the cornbread to go with it.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew

Only slightly tweaked from Melissa Clark's recipe which she wrote about here. I simmered the beans for close to 3 hours instead of the 2 hours she recommends, and I think it helped the texture of the beans.


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound chicken sausage, sweet Italian style, sliced 3/4-inch thick
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
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste


Heat the oil in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, until dark golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic to the pot and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the beans, 8 cups of water, salt, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, 2 to 3 hours, adding more water as necessary to make sure the beans remain submerged.

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.

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13 Responses to “comfort food: white bean and sausage stew”

  1. 1
    Liz the Chef — November 22, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

    I cut out Melissa’s recipe too and it is “buried” on my fridge door, as so many wonderful-sounding recipes stack up. You have inspired me to try it!

  2. 2
    Bob — November 22, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

    We love it here…made it again tonight with enough left to last for several more meals. You should think about trying your hand at a bread bowl…very easy and a great touch.

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  4. 3
    Gail — November 23, 2010 @ 9:28 am

    I, too, read the recipe and column and immediately added it to my recipe file. Glad it passed your kids’ test. I can’t wait to make it!

  5. 4
    Kath — November 23, 2010 @ 9:47 am

    I usually read the New York Times food articles but missed this one. Your soup looks fantastic! Sausage and beans with cornbread sounds like the perfect cold weather meal. (It snowed and is 21 degrees in Seattle. )

  6. 5
    Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — November 23, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    I love that chicken sausage… One of my favorites! I always struggle with what to make in the days leading up to a holiday. This sounds like the perfect solution.

    • 5.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — November 23, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

      Jen – They really do make the best chicken sausage. I’m always substituting it in place of regular sausage.

  7. 6
    Dan @ Casual Kitchen — November 23, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

    This is my first time visiting your site and I’m blown away by the simple and delicious elegance of this recipe! Thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to sharing this with my readers.

    • 6.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — November 23, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

      Welcome, Dan. I’m glad you’re here!

  8. 7
    Lael Hazan @educatedpalate — November 23, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    Great post, love the soup. I have beans soaking on my counter right now!

  9. 8
    Denice Olig — December 16, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

    I made this and i love it.
    No cumin. Not really mad about it. An odd spice really, in my opinion.
    Turned out fabulous. Warm, hearty,just what I needed for these past few cold days.
    Thanks for the inspiration MJ.

    • 8.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — December 19, 2010 @ 9:22 am

      Denice – Yay! I’m so happy. You know, I feel the same way about cumin. I’m okay with it in small doses, but it’s not a spice I just love.

  10. 9
    Blaiser — January 7, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

    This is maybe the first New York Times recipes that I cut out and saved for a rainy day. Snowy days are more what’s cooking in the heart these days — we got our first dusting today of perhaps three inches after the 20″ deluge in the week between Christmas and New Years. (suburban Jersey)

    I had some organic pinto beans in the larder and went with those, along with sweet sausage from Trader Joe’s — but burned the hell out of the tomato paste/cumin/sausage drippings part — just wasn’t hovering when I should have been hovering. Anyway, put in the water and got it simmering and went to pick up my kid from school — library, errand, and back to the apartment — picture perfect wet snow on evergreens outside — a real Hallmark moment — and opening the door — the aroma was unbelievable. The kid (10) went bananas, but it took another few hours to get the pinto beans where we wanted them — the liquid meanwhile became a rich, rich, brown — probably due in some part to the initial burning of the spice mixture. Total cooking time 4 hours plus, but I’m telling you — walking into that smell after coming in from the snow…. priceless.

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