Continued good fortune

This ridiculously hot and humid weekend had a definite upside: it was filled with good wishes, good friends, and a celebratory lunch with my mother. It was my birthday weekend.

I spent time doing selfish and indulgent things, like getting a pedicure and hunkering down during a thunderstorm with a book instead of cleaning house. At this age I'm not into gifts, but I was happily surprised with a fabulous robot drawing — I thought it was a chicken, but no matter — from my 4-year-old nephew, now prominently displayed on the refrigerator.

Don't you think it looks like a chicken?

I also lucked into another 1 1/4 pound bag of fresh clams from my friend Lisa, a CSF member who isn't down with the texture of bivalves. Not a birthday gift, but definitely a weekend highlight.

What to do with my good fortune? I combined the clams with sausage, beans, and kale — a Portuguese-inspired stew that's a meal in itself, ideally served with a piece of toasted country bread to soak up extra juices. I cooked the cannellini beans early in the day with aromatics, combining them at dinner time with hot Italian pork sausage and dinosaur kale for a complete meal. The beans are creamy, rich and flavorful.

You'll have extra beans if you cook the quantity listed below. They're wonderful on their own, served with meat or poultry, or pureed for a dip or crostini topping.

Cannellini Beans

1/2 pound dried cannellini beans (I used Rancho Gordo brand), soaked overnight in water
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, smashed

large pinch of kosher salt

After soaking the dried beans overnight (8+ hours) in water, drain and place in a large pot. Cover with fresh water and add onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves and garlic. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender, 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Add kosher salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking — adding it too soon will prevent the beans from cooking through.

Clams with Sausage, Beans, and Kale

1 1/4 cups cooked cannellini beans, cooking liquid reserved (see above)
1 link hot Italian pork sausage (I found a local sausage at Whole Foods)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 pounds clams, scrubbed
1/2 bunch kale, ribs removed and cut into ribbons
parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Remove the sausage from it's casing, break up the meat, and cook in a large saucepan or skillet (I'm partial to my cast-iron beauties) over medium heat, rendering the fat and crisping the meat. Add 1/2 cup chopped white onion, one minced garlic clove and saute. Add olive oil if necessary.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add chopped kale (about 1 cup, packed tightly after cutting into ribbons), the cooked beans and their cooking liquid, and cook 5-6 minutes, adding water if necessary — you don't want anything to brown.

Add clams and more water as needed, cover, and cook 10 minutes, until clams open. After cooking, discard any unopened clams. Season to taste, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with toasted bread.

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