An April birthday in Chicago can just as easily predict a blizzard or a heat storm. Sometimes you get them back to back. Last weekend, the power went out because of heat-lightning pockets. Today, we got this:
Although the weather prompted this particular choice, the soup is (for once) not at all a lament about the local climate — it's about my mother, who as she prepares to tick off another birthday in Chicago's second-worst season, has long passed the point of wanting to 'celebrate' any of this shit and would be much more touched by spending quality time with nearest child. I asked her what she might want for dinner and said I would cook it as a 'surprise,' since no one in my family believes I can.
Her coded response: "well, remember it will likely be hailing and you're going on vacation next week. Also, I want to watch Game of Thrones season 3 pretty much the entire day."
How I decoded her response: it had to be an indoor dinner at home with a swimsuit-friendly nutrition value and involving alcohol as a main ingredient. "Kale?" she asks me incredulously as I take out a giant bag of Tuscan black kale I hauled from the downtown grocery. "Like kale chips? You'll put that in the soup? Will it be good in there?"
No mom it's not like kale chips at all because this is the fancy kale and I hate kale chips and I hate smoothies too and actually I hate everything else that kale belongs in, but it's a good question because I've never made this before and have no idea if it will be good. It might be the worst birthday ever.
My honest answer: "if it sucks, we can order barbecue delivery."
I have an inordinate number of kale recipes on here for someone who generally despises the premise and dining demographic of kale, but most of what makes this soup good is NOT the kale — it's the generous amount of lemon squeezed into it before cooking; the Parmesan rind creaminess without any actual cream required; the substantial feeling of ditalini WHICH WE SPENT LIKE TEN WHOLE MINUTES TRYING TO LOCATE ON THE BARILLA SHELF. Science at work.
Sidenote: apparently Parmesan rinds are a thing now because the grocery store has finally found a way to monetize them by packaging a few in plastic clamshells and selling them for $2.99 — even in the suburbs, for which I blame Chopped. I'm not sure if I find this encouraging or fucking irritating, but either way, not finding these shouldn't be what holds you back. If you really can't get them through purchase or pleading, add extra grated and just go with it. If you're extra special, use Romano.
Effortful time: 5 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
2 cans navy beans, which are in fact very white, drained and rinsed
2/3 bag chopped Tuscan black kale
1 shallot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 large red potato, peeled and cubed
8 cups chicken stock (I created it from Better than Bouillon)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Parmesan rinds
1 1/2 cups dry ditalini pasta
Salt and pepper
Grated Romano (yes, it 'goes' just fine)
Lemons, thinly sliced
In a very large (8 qt) dutch oven, fry the potato cubes in olive oil. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until lightly browned.
Add the beans, kale, stock, lemon juice, Parmesan rinds, oregano, and pepper. Stir to combine and cover partway. Bring to a low simmer. Leave it there for 30 minutes.
Once that's passed, add the ditalini and grated Parmesan (however much you like). Stir again and cook, uncovered, for 10 more minutes.
Serve with grated Parm and lemon wedges, perfect for squeezing with all your might as you ragingly count all the incidences of Joffrey being a dick in a single episode, mauling your citrus garnish as a proxy of his face.
Realize you might just know the spoiler alert for tonight's premiere after all.