I will admit — living several hours inland in North Carolina, in the mental bubble that is graduate school, I didn’t pay attention to the Hurricane Sandy warnings. In fact, it was just a few days before it hit that the severity of the issue even registered to me, when I was talking with a neighbor who recommended I finish my yard work before “the rains get real bad.” Wait, what?!
Yet once I was dialed in, I was totally dialed in. Beyond those loved ones who weathered the storm in their homes, Sandy ended up creating “orphans” of two of my good friends, one of whom had flown to NYC that weekend to visit friends and another old friend (A) who happened to be down in the Triangle area for a conference the same weekend. Fortunately I was able to offer housing and a place to stress out and work (as every grad student needs) to A, the displaced New Yorker.
It was a silver lining to a few very tense days as A spent hours booking and rebooking her cancelled flight and we constantly checked the status of the Eastern Seaboard. Recent months have increased my awareness of the number of good friends I have out East, and I found myself surprisingly wound up about the impact of the storm! I am once again extremely thankful for social media, allowing me to quietly monitor conditions in and around my loved ones — through messages to friends, checking on Jersey electricity outages, posted photos from old classmates in Queens, A’s parents bailing out their flooding basement, and even a quick connection with a journalist living in Brooklyn I’ve been following online since this spring. Thankfully, most of my friends made it out with minor impacts, such as the friend who texted me the photo below of his (relatively untouched) neighborhood.
I am a firm believer in food as a physical manifestation of comfort and love. While A was here I wanted her to feel at ease and safe, but most of all, worry-free — or at least as much as we both could muster given the circumstances. This soup, in my November issue of the beloved Everyday Food, fit the bill perfectly. We made it together in the peaceful community of my kitchen, eating it through multiple meals. It became a calming ritual to clear the table of our laptops and papers to enjoy a warm bowl with long, rambling conversations about class structure, the arts, the future of media, modern dating, career paths, the cities our rootless lives have brought us through, and goodness knows what else.
We made a few substitutions, which I’ll note for full disclosure. Intentionally, I used sliced Trader Joe’s meatless Italian sausage as A is a vegetarian, which worked pretty well but definitely did not add the depth of flavor that uncased Italian sausage would’ve provided. To try to mitigate this I added additional aromatics: two chopped shallots, green onions, and an extra clove of garlic. Unintentionally, I also accidentally began following the wrong recipe, so I dropped two teaspoons of sugar into the mix. Oops. A attempted to correct with some chili pepper, and fortunately enough it helped. Although initially a smidge sweet, the Parmesan helped balance things out with the leftovers developing a really nice flavor profile — I enjoyed the last bowl as much as my first. I was surprised at how well this turned out; the mix of ingredients is just right, providing a nice mix of greens, starch, and protein. The recipe printed below is the original, without substitutions.
At the end of our unexpected three-day staycation together, A and I remarked how we hadn’t left the house — although I had made excursions to pick up my CSA and attend school meetings, we were too focused on Sandy and work that we hadn’t enjoyed the traditional Southern eating blitz most of my visiting friends request. This seemed exceptionally odd as A is one of my friends who is legitimately passionate (and incredibly knowledgeable) about food (you can see why we get along!). Yet perhaps this soup was an excellent, if humble showcase of North Carolina in the fall, using local mustard greens, sweet potatoes (the official state vegetable! Did you know that NC grows ~40% of the nation’s sweet potatoes?), and a homemade root vegetable vegetarian stock.
Although the circumstances were less than desirable, this time intensified my thanks for the friends I’ve met through the years (A and I are twelve years and counting!), and those special connections that grow in depth and meaning no matter where our lives take us, physically, professionally, and personally.
Sending love and warmth to those who are still displaced because of Sandy.
Sweet Potato and Italian Sausage Soup
via Everyday Food
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ large yellow onion, diced large
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 lb sweet Italian sausage (no casings!)
- 2 sweet potatoes (1 pound total), peeled and diced medium
- 4 cups (32 oz) chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups of water
- ¾ cup pasta shells (we used orecchiette)
- 4 cups of roughly chopped mixed greens (such as kale or swiss chard, we used mustard greens)
- Grated Parmesan (if desired)
- In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes; season with salt & pepper.
- Add sausage (break it up often with a wooden spoon!) and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add sweet potatoes, broth, and water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes less than the directions on the box. Reduce to a simmer, add the greens and cook for 3-4 more minutes until pasta is tender and greens are wilted.
- Ladle into your bowls and sprinkle on Parmesan if desired.
- If reheating, I found that this absorbs liquid. Add ~1/4 cup water to each serving to reconstitute the soup.