When the weather cools down and the leaves start to change, there’s nothing better to turn to than a warm, hearty stew.
Luckily, in addition to being comforting, fall soups and stews are also very easy on the budget: Slow cooking transforms cheaper cuts of meat into luxurious, fall-off-the-bone creations. This particular stew also highlights a humble but yummy ingredient, an Italian peasant favorite: white beans.
The spicy sausage, which is inexpensive pretty much anywhere, adds tons of flavor to the broth, while the white beans nourish you with fiber and protein without adding fat. You need little else besides a few pantry staples to make your dish complete—just a hit of leftover white wine to deglaze the pan, and some fresh spinach, which adds more iron and numerous vitamins and minerals, not to mention a hit of green. The result is a healthy, minimalist, one-pot meal that takes less than an hour to reach homey perfection. Serve your stew with a crusty baguette or a slice of ciabatta, and dinner is served.
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Spicy Sausage and White Bean Stew
Time: 35 minutes
Note: If you want to save even more money, you can use dried beans. Just remember to soak them overnight. Then cook them for longer in the broth (keeping the pot covered) until tender, before proceeding with the recipe. You might need to add more stock at the end of this process.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup leftover white wine
Two 15-ounce cans white beans, rinsed and drained (or use dried, see note)
2 cups chicken stock (you can even make your own)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium Dutch oven or heavy-lidded saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, and break the meat into 1-inch pieces with your spatula. Cook until browned. Remove the sausage to a bowl, turn the heat down to medium and add the onions. Sauté, stirring constantly at first, until soft, about 5 minutes. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get the brown bits, which are especially flavorful. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute, until fragrant.
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Deglaze the pan with the wine, again scraping the bottom to incorporate the brown bits. Cook for 3 minutes, until reduced, then add the white beans, sausage, chicken stock and thyme. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat back to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The broth will have thickened, and the beans will be soft, but not falling apart. Stir in the spinach and cook for another two minutes, until wilted. Taste and add a pinch of salt if needed (sausage and canned beans can be quite salty, so don’t go overboard).
If you want to make this in a slow cooker, you can skip a few steps by sauteeing the sausage, onion and garlic together in olive oil. Then, put the contents of the pan into a slow cooker with the beans, sausage, stock, and thyme. Cook on low for about 5 hours, until thickened. Then stir in the spinach, as above. Serving suggestions are the same.
Serve the stew in bowls alongside a good crusty baguette.