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by Joan MacIsaac
1 ½ lbs. Italian sausages (sweet or hot)
2 T. olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
1 cup celery, diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
2 bay leaves
2 T. chopped thyme
6 sage leaves
3 cups Great Northern beans or Navy beans, soaked overnight in water
12 oz. canned whole plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
8 cups of kale, cleaned, stemmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
In a large braising pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium high heat. Pierce the sausages with a thin knife in 3-4 places and add to the heated pan. Brown the sausages on one side for 2-3 minutes and turn them every few minutes to brown evenly on all sides. Once the sausages are evenly browned transfer them to a plate and let cool.
Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the sausage fat.
In the same braising pan add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the sausage fat and heat on medium-high. Add the onion and celery and sauté until the onions and celery are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and sage and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. If there is any browning going on, turn the heat down to medium or medium-low.
Drain the beans; add them to the braising pan making sure to toss the beans in the aromatics and fats. Add the tomatoes and enough water to cover the beans by one inch. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the beans to a gentle boil. Once the beans come to a boil, stir and reduce the heat to low. You may need to add more water as the beans cook. Just keep the level of water to the level of the beans as they cook and make sure to stir them every now and then. Let the beans simmer for 45-50 minutes. Test the beans and they should be tender.
While the beans are cooking, slice the sausages into ½ inch rounds.
When the beans are tender, add the sausages and kale and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste.
If you'd like the stew thicker transfer three quarters of the stew to a serving dish. Pick out any of the sausages and kale as possible from the remaining stew in the braising pot. Using a large heavy-duty whisk, briskly stir the beans in the pot so they begin to break down and mash. Now return the stew in the serving dish to the pot and gently fold the ingredients together. Test for seasoning again and serve.
Optional Ingredients: You can make this an even heartier stew by adding diced carrots and turnips to the stew at the same time as the sausages and kale.
Note: Lionette's Market in the South End makes a fabulous sausage from their weekly delivery of a Yorkshire Pig, which is locally raised in Vermont.