I was reading recently in the New York Times a fun article that encouraged me to eat my Christmas tree.
Well, maybe not the whole tree, but some of the needles. It seems that the recent interest in Nordic cooking - the latest fad - has brought evergreens into focus as an ingredient. I admit, I was intrigued.
Each year, when it's time to take off all the baubles and lights and drag the poor, brittle tree out to the curb to be ignominiously cut up and stuffed into the green bin, I feel a little sad and guilty.
It took several years to grow what was a splendid tree and in less than a month it is reduced to a tired, browning husk of its former self. I love having a Christmas tree and I probably won't stop until I'm too weak to drag one home or too poor to bribe some college kid to do the dragging for me, but there always comes that sad day.
Now, here was an article that said I could at least salvage a few meals out of the tree, a sort of nose-to-tail eating for the evergreen set. So, when we cut the tree up, I saved some of the greenest tips with soup in mind.
Sausage and bean soup, with pine needles. Or, actually, fir needles because, in my view, if it's not a Douglas fir, it's not Christmas.
I chopped and browned and brothed and simmered but the bad news is that I have to admit that the evergreen tang I was hoping for was not there. Either my tree was too dry, I used too few needles, or Douglas firs are not ideal for culinary adventures. I'm still intrigued and I will keep experimenting with the fresh needles off evergreens I pass on my dog walking routes. The good news is that the soup was delicious anyway, so I'll go ahead and give you the recipe in case you're in a mood to try something similar.
Needle Soup with Sausage and Swiss Chard
3 fresh garlic sausages, about 1/2 pound in all
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 ribs of celery chopped, with the leaves
1-2 large carrots, chopped
1 16oz can white beans (I use Navy beans out of sentiment)
1 16 oz can chopped tomatoes
6 (approx) cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon fir needles, finely minced
3-4 large leaves of Swiss chard, roughly chopped (or you could use spinach, or other greens, but you'd probably need to cook the other greens longer to soften them)
In a large kettle or pot, heat the olive oil to shimmering. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing in little bibbits, sautéing them until nicely browned. Add the rest of the vegetables in this order: onion, garlic, celery, carrot, cooking each successive veggie for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the beans, tomatoes, chicken broth and fir needles, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for about an hour. Add the Swiss chard and cover until the chard softens and relaxes, perhaps 5 more minutes. Ladle into bowls.
You will need pepper but you may not need salt, depending on how salty your sausage is. With the tang of pine missing, you might want to add some rosemary, too. I'm imagining that they would taste similarly.