Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup

     It was an early, rainy, grey Saturday morning as we entered the old, dreary aquatics center at a NATO Airbase in Holland.  Luckily, we had arrived the previous evening, opting to drive up and do a bit of sightseeing with friends rather than take the team bus, which had left that morning at 3:00 a.m.  While many of the team members seemed a bit bleary-eyed, Dear Daughter and her two friends were well rested and in good spirits.

     It must be noted that Dear Daughter is a good swimmer.  Naturally, as her parents, we think that she could be great.  Missy Franklin great?  Perhaps not, but she does have talent.  As parents, we struggle a bit with her motivation and competitive spirit.   She is far more into the social aspect and therefore, we (to include her coaches) are never really quite sure of her potential.  This season has not been easy for her as she jumped an age category after the second meet of the season.  The qualifying times for the league championship seem (to her) very far out of reach and quickly she went from a strong 10-year old swimmer to an average 11-year old swimmer.

     So, it is sad to say, but I wasn't expecting much this meet.  An hour after the meet started, she headed to the platform for her first event, the 100-meter Individual Medley.  As the buzzer went off, she dove into the pool for her weakest stroke, the 25-meter butterfly.  As she touched the wall and began the backstroke, I realized that she was in second place and was just behind the leader!  I started yelling and clapping, and yelling.  Did I mention that I was yelling?  She held her own and was still in second place when she began the third leg and her best stroke - the breaststroke.  She was clearly putting out the effort and was so, so close to overtaking the leader.  But in order to win, I knew that she would have to have a very clear lead going into the final leg, the freestyle.  She didn't have that lead.  I continued to cheer (that sounds better than "yell"), when I heard another cheer for Dear Daughter.

     Well, it wasn't exactly a cheer.  It was the loud booming voice of her head coach, yelling one word...her name.  While this probably doesn't seem like a big deal to you, it was a huge deal to me.  I had never heard Coach Bob say her name, much less yell her name.  I doubt he even knew her name until the second before it left his mouth.  While he is the Head Coach, he spends most of his time with the Varsity swimmers, not the JV team.  If he has said her name, then he must be impressed!

     But I digress...we were in the final leg of a race that seemed never ending.  My voice was getting hoarse and my hands stung from clapping so hard.  She was still just behind the leader when suddenly she kicked in a final burst, overtook her and won her heat!  She had never displayed such effort before, never displayed such a desire to win...and I forgot to film it!  She came over to me with her Heat Winner ribbon and was clearly proud of her accomplishment.  Later that morning,  she saw the final results, Second Place overall.  What was she proud of most?  That she had earned her team 8 points.

     But it doesn't end there.  Her final event after seven hours at the pool was her strongest event, the 50 meter breaststroke.  I tried to have no expectations - it had been a very long day.  As she and I looked over her placement, it occurred to me that she had no idea why she was swimming in Lane 3.  "Your time is the fastest for this heat and the fastest swimmer always gets Lane 3," I explained to her.  She processed this information and became very quiet.  Oh no, I wondered.  Perhaps, she was getting too stressed out about this fact.  She slowly went over to her swim bag and pulled out another swim cap and put it on.  This swim cap was given to her earlier in the season when she qualified for the championships as a 10 year old.  But since the championships will be held when she is 11, she must re-qualify as an 11 year old.  So, while it is a nice cap, it is meaningless as far as I am concerned.

     There she Lane 3...wearing her Championship  Qualifier cap.  Her look was of total concentration.  She even began to swing her arms a bit in an effort to warm up (or shake off the nerves).   At the sound of the whistle, she stepped onto the platform.  She dropped her head, reached down and prepared to dive.  The bell sounded and she left the platform.  She quickly established a commanding lead and never let it falter.  She shaved off over four seconds from her best time and came within one second of qualifying...ONE SECOND!

     "Effort."   "Be all that you can be."  "Do your best."  Dear Husband and I have been repeating these over and over to her for the past several months.  I was sure that it was going in one ear and out the other.  We saw the eyes roll - received that "tween" look.  But as I watched her walk across the stage at the school awards ceremony last week, receiving her Highest Academic Achievement Award for straight As, I also remembered her recent swimming moments.

Perhaps, she did hear us just once.

    So here is a wonderful healthy soup that is easy to make and helps to get those brain cells working and those muscles building.

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup

Sausage, Bean and Pasta Soup
Adapted from Spinach and Pasta Soup, published in the Washington Post, October 2010

1 pound italian sausage, without the casings
1 medium onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
28 ounces canned whole peeled tomatoes, drained
6 to 8 cups chicken broth
8 ounces dried mini-farfalle (bowtie) pasta  (I couldn't find mini pasta and used regular size and it worked just fine.)
8 ounces baby spinach, rinsed and chopped
15 ounces (1 can) cannellini beans, drained
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Pinch pieces of the sausage and place in a stockpot over medium heat.  Cook until the exterior is no longer pink.  It does not need to be fully cooked at this point.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot and cook for four minutes, until softened.  Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you put them in the pot (that was really fun to do).

Add four cups of stock and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for three minutes.

Add the spinach and beans and the remaining two cups of stock.  Stir, cover and cook for five to eight minutes.  If it looks a little thick, add more stock until you get the consistency that you prefer.  The spinach should be tender, the pasta should be al dente and the sausage will be fully cooked. Salt to taste.

Divide among bowls and top with grated cheese.

(Note:  Leftovers are better refrigerated, not frozen (to preserve the texture of the pasta).  When reheating, you may want to add more broth or tomato juices to bring the mixture back to a more soupy consistency.  Or you can leave it as a chunky stew.)

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