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.