Tuscan sausage and bean stew with spinach and squash

I got home from work today with no inkling what I'd fix for dinner. Tell me I'm not the only one...

But then it's mid-November with all that it entails: gray skies, damp, chill breeze and a kaleidescope of color in the leaves. 

Soup weather.

I love soup. My husband prefers stews, thick and hearty. Soups are fine as an appetizer or side dish, but I don't (usually) try to pass off my tomato basil cheddar bisque as a meal around here.

Maybe I could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone and manage to satisfy both my craving and his appetite with one main dish!

I thought about the ingredients I had on hand: northern beans, spinach, sweet Italian sausage, an acorn squash, plucky herbs that survived our first frosts.

Yes, a stew it must be. 

You should know: This was a real winner. My foodie husband said it was the best I'd ever made, then listed off the other soups I'm famous for. He wanted to be sure I could duplicate it next time. (Don't be like us and invent toothsome dishes and forget to write down the recipe! Like for his outrageously delicious clam chowder. We're still mourning that loss...) And he wanted to take some for lunch tomorrow.

Stew di giorno

This is my recipe, based on one I found in an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, Soups and Stews, from the Cooking for Today series called Tuscan Sausage and Bean Soup.

The Stew
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
olive oil

1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 acorn squash, peeled and cut in bite-size cubes*
14-16 ounces diced canned tomatoes
1 16-ounce can great northern beans with liquid (or garbanzos)
generous splash of red wine (I used Port.)
1/2 pound chopped frozen spinach
fresh chopped herbs (I used an assortment: basil, oregano, parsley, marjoram, thyme, 2-3 tablespoons; you could use a teaspoon of dried Italian blend.)
Bay leaf
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
freshly grated Parmesan

In a stew pot or enamel Dutch oven, fry sausage until it starts to brown. (It's nice if the sausage stays in plump morsels.) Remove from pot. Drain well.

In the pot, add a splash of olive oil, onions, garlic, and acorn squash. Let the onions wilt and brown slightly if they want to. Add the tomatoes, red wine, half the herbs, bay leaf and salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer until the acorn squash grows tender (about 20 minutes).

Add the beans and spinach. Bring to a gentle simmer until spinach is tender. Add the remaining herbs and more salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let sit until serving time (while you make the garlic cheese bread below). Serve with a dusting of Parmesan.

*How to peel an acorn squash: First you (carefully) cut it in half, stem to blossom end. Then cut in wedges, being careful to cut in the valleys. Then you peel each section with a sharp vegetable peeler. It's so much easier to roast these things, but you don't come out with chunks that way. Or you could use summer squash as in the original recipe and put it end toward the end.

Garlic cheese bread
loaf of French bread
softened butter
garlic powder
Equal parts grated sharp cheddar, colby-jack and monterey jack cheeses (or your choice, just use plenty)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut French loaf in half lengthwise. Cut 6 inch sections (to look like boats) and butter them well. Put them butter side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with garlic powder and Parmesan. Pile on an assortment of cheese. Put in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until cheese melts. Garnish with parsley if you like. Turn on broiler for a few seconds to brown the cheese slightly.


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