Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Comfort in a bowl

by Francesca “Fresca” Conti Murphy
- from Death al Dente, Book One of the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, by Leslie Budewitz, coming in August 2013

Late February can be a bit dreary, don’t you think? I suppose that’s why we start the month by asking a groundhog in a tux to predict future weather and why we wear red, give chocolate, and celebrate love mid-month. Of course, chocolate is always in good taste, and one should celebrate love at every chance.

But. Still. The Merc is struggling. My manager is a doll–a dear, dear friend. But well, she’s not managing all that well. Sales are down. The vendors and suppliers are unhappy with her. Cleaning up her messes is keeping me from the stove. And the Merc, this creaky, quirky pile of bricks that’s been in my late husband’s family for more than a hundred years, is looking a bit shabby. Maybe it’s just the winter blahs.

I’ve been asking Erin, my youngest, for business advice, and she’s been so helpful. But what I really want, I can’t ask. I want her to come home.

So, it’s time for soup, the ultimate comfort food. I created this recipe for my family’s Sunday afternoon gathering. Even the five-year-old loved it. (Of course, he thinks the toasts look like bunny ears. He's right.)

Tuscan Bean Soup with Asiago Toasts

For the soup:
1 T. olive oil
1 pound smoked turkey or chicken sausage
1 large fennel bulb
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
28-30 oz low-sodium chicken broth (I like to use a carton of Pacific Organics broth, but other brands are good, too.)
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
black pepper, to taste
½ tsp rubbed sage (this is the dried sage that looks like green cotton; if you’ve got dried leaves, go ahead and use them)
2-14 oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained. (Yes, you can cook dried beans, but part of the beauty of this soup is that you can make it on short notice).

For the toasts:
½ c. shredded Asiago cheese (Don't you just love saying "Asiago"?)
baguette, cut in ½" thick slices, on the diagonal

Cut the sausage into 1/4" thick slices. Trim the fronds and most of the stalks off the fennel bulb, and reserve a few fronds for garnish; trim the hard root end. Chop the fennel and onion; you’ll have about 1 to 1-1/4 cups of each. Chop the garlic.
In a 6-8 quart kettle, heat the oil and saute the sausage slices over medium until heated through, 5-7 minutes. Remove the sausage. Leave about 1 T drippings in the pan; drain any excess. Saute the fennel and onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute about 1 minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, pepper, and sage. Stir and cook about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute, then reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Heat broiler. Mound 1-2 tsp of cheese on each bread slice and place on baking sheet. Broil until lightly toasted–about 1-2 minutes.

Serve soup with toasts on the side. Serves 6.

What’s your favorite comfort food?

(Death al Dente, first  in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, debuts from Berkley Prime Crime in August  2013. The series is set in a small, lakeside resort community in Northwest Montana, on the road to Glacier Park. Guess where my author, Leslie Budewitz, lives! Leslie is also a lawyer and won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books). Visit her website and blog at ) 


  1. Comfort foods? Anything that includes tomatoes, pasta and lots of garlic...

  2. Erin Murphy, from Jewel BayFebruary 27, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    Willow, you too? When I first went off to college, I was so surprised to discover that for many people comfort food is well, mellow. Scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese. For me, it's got to have flavor -- tomatoes, basil or oregano, and yes, garlic. Feeding my inner Italian girl!

  3. I am a vegatarian who swears off of carbs most of the time. So my favorite comfort food is a vegatarian pasta sauce with lots of fresh garlic, basil, oregano, fresh tomatoes, zuccini, bell peppers and Parm cheese with angel hair pasta.
    I would rather have that then sugar!

  4. Pasta with Alfredo sauce is my first thought. But I have been cooking new recipes and finding so many different things that are just so good! Something with Pesto Sauce sounds really good too. Meat Loaf. And I used to hate Meat Loaf. Scones. I didn't use to like them either. Funny how tastes change. Thanks for the recipe and the bunny ears!

  5. Mmm, Lexie, that sounds good! And Elaine, my author says when she made Fettucine Alfredo for her dad, he called it fancy mac & cheese. She was not amused -- but he was! Enjoy the soup -- and Lexie, it could easily be made vegetarian.

  6. Comfort food? Ice cream, and potatoe chips. For real dinner, something easy and oldfashioned.

  7. Fresca Murphy from Jewel BayFebruary 28, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    Ah, yes, Aurian. It does vary with the time of day, doesn't it? Enjoy!