Ah, winter. To this day my fantasies of winter are white sparkling days. There are mornings full of chopping, dicing, sautéing, simmering as music fills the warm kitchen. I spend the afternoon snowshoeing or at the very least frolicking (yes frolicking, it’s a fantasy after all) through the powder. There is always a pot of soup simmering and ready at the perfect moment.
Then something shakes me from my reverie and I’m faced with the reality of these frozen months… the days get short, the nights get long, and by the time you get home from work all you really want to do is put your slippers on and curl up under a blanket. It’s not just me who gets these hibernation tendencies, right? My best intentions of cooking, note taking, and writing were suppressed by hot tea, quilts, and movies. And then, suddenly, the holidays are over. January has come and gone, Punxsutawney Phil has predicted an early spring, and it’s time to reemerge.
It seems almost a universal truth, even after a few barren months and especially when it’s still cold enough to bring snow, soups satisfy. But I’m starting to crave the fresh greens of spring. So, I used chicken soup as the starting point, then swapped the celery and carrots for kale and spinach. I also pulled the last, lone bottle of Christmas Ale out of the fridge (any strong amber ale will do though). After all, it’s almost spring (hey, I can hope) and I’ll need to make room for lighter brews.
Honestly, despite my desires, I don’t have time to spend all morning cooking (or all evening for that matter!). This is a quick and easy recipe, hearty but not heavy. You may want to serve it with a crusty loaf of sourdough for sopping up all the ale broth!
Ale & Kale Soup
1 onion, chopped
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. butter
1/4 t. sea salt
2 1/2 t. lemon pepper
12 oz. beer (any strong amber ale would do nicely)
1 c. low-sodium vegetable broth
1 c. water
1 bunch of kale, chopped (about 4-5 cups chopped, fresh)
1 c. ditalini pasta
3-4 bay leaves
1 pod broken Star Anise*
4 oz. fresh baby spinach (about 1/2 bag)
Optional: Parmesan cheese for serving
Note: *The star anise greatly enhances the flavor of the broth and is integral to the dish. Just don’t leave it in after the soup is cooked or the flavor can become overwhelming.
In large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, onions, chicken. Sprinkle with half of the sea salt and about half of the lemon pepper. Sautee until chicken is browned. Deglaze pan with beer. Add vegetable broth, water, and kale. Increase heat to medium high and bring to boil. Add kale, pasta, and remaining spices. Reduce heat, cover, cook 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove star anise and bay leaves from pan. Stir in spinach. If it’s a too thick, add a bit more water or broth to thin…or heck, add more beer if you’re serving it to adults! Top with Parmesan, if desired, and serve.