So, here's what we had for dinner tonight. I'll give you the real recipe and then the "make shift" version of what I did.
Serves 6, make in a 4 quart slow cooker (or whatever you have :) )
12 ounces dried cannellini beans (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 lb smoked pork neck bone, or 1 smoked ham hock (optional: see note below)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 bunch kale (about 1 pound), rinsed, stemmed, and torn into 2-inch pieces
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
Rinse the beans under cold running water and pick thoroughly through them, removing any stones or debris. Place the beans, pork neck bone, onion, garlic, bay leaf and 5 cups water in a 4-quart slow cooker. Cook, covered, on the low setting for 4 hours.
Using tongs, remove the pork from the cooker and set it aside. Add the kale to the cooker, pushing it down into the liquid, replace the lid and cook for 1 hour longer, or until the kale is very tender. When the pork is cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones, discarding the bones and fat. Return the meat to the cooker, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook to heat through.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the rosemary sprigs and fry, turning them with tongs, for 1 to 2 minutes, until just starting to brown. Remove the rosemary from the oil and set it aside on paper towels to drain and become crisp. Set the oil aside.
Ladle the soup into 6 serving bowls and drizzle each serving with some of the rosemary-infused oil. Place a fried rosemary sprig on top of each serving.
Note: The meat is used here mainly as a seasoning (and can be omitted if you'd like to make a vegetarian version of this soup -- the rosemary adds so much flavor that you won't miss the meat). For a more substantial dish, instead of the neck bone (or in addition to it) use 1 pound smoked sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille, sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces.
I went for the "quicker-n-dirty" version of this soup and made it for a crowd. I used 2 boxes of chicken broth for the base (64 oz total?), and 4 cans of white beans (canellini and great northern). I cooked these with the bay leaf, onion and garlic for like an hour then left it to sit overnight. The next day, I bought 2 lbs smoked sausage, browned the slices for a while and then used some of the broth to get the yummy browned parts up that had stuck to the pan. Then I added what I think amounted to about 1 1/2 bunches of kale (I was making a parallel vegetarian version for one of my guests, so part of the kale went there) and simmered it for about an hour. The rosemary and olive oil are key -- add a great flavor! I served it with Costco's multigrain bread and Jarlsburg cheese.
Hey Beth -- a special note for you, YES, I think you could use spinach in this recipe if you can't find kale in Canada. You wouldn't cook it for nearly as long, though, maybe add it just in time for it to wilt before you serve it. And you'd want to make sure you use a lot of it, it's a very "leafy green" soup.