Like so many restaurants trying to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, pint-sized Talulla pivoted to takeout and delivery in the immediate weeks following the shutdown before eventually deciding to shutter. But the Cambridge bôite, owned by husband and wife team Conor Dennehy and Danielle Ayer, accomplished plenty in the chaotic time before it closed, most notably launching Casseroles for a Cause. The now-halted program partnered with Fletcher Maynard Academy and Cambridge Public Schools to donate 10 bagged lunches to students in need for every casserole that was purchased from Talulla, or five bagged lunches for every soup.
“When we were doing [Casseroles for a Cause], we were definitely having an adjustment period where we were trying to learn to be as efficient as possible,” Dennehy shared. “Just when we felt like we were starting to get the hang of it, we made the decision to close for a while.”
Now that Talulla’s lights are off, Dennehy and Ayer are spending quality time at home in Dorchester with their restaurant’s namesake: their daughter. They’ve also been making one of their favorite soups, a Tuscan bean and kale creation featured on their Casseroles for a Cause menu. Dennehy shared the recipe with Boston.com, along with a few thoughts on life in quarantine.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How are you holding up?
We are doing great so far. Danielle, Talulla, and I are doing lots of fun projects at home — everything from art and cooking projects to movie nights with popcorn.
What do you miss most about being in your restaurant right now?
I miss the fluidity and creative nature of being there with the team. Being able to get whatever seasonal ingredient that’s available at any given time makes for heightened creativity. At home we are finding other ways to use our creativity.
How are you keeping busy? What have you been doing to keep yourself grounded?
Talulla is making it easy for us to stay grounded. She has absolutely no idea what’s happening in the outside world. She’s just so happy to have mommy and daddy at home all the time. We’ve created a bit of a routine for Talulla that keeps us all busy. We start with some circle time and make sure to have physical activity in our day, and then we do lots of fun projects and crafts. We’ve been making every meal together and just trying to enjoy our time here together as much as possible.
What can locals do to help the restaurant industry right now?
Buy a gift card from your favorite restaurant. It’s cash-in-hand now for the restaurant, and you can use it the next time you visit them. Check in with your friends that work in the industry whenever you can. This is a difficult time for many people, but the restaurant industry’s employees are taking a beating with their employment situations. If you can, donate to a local charity that is trying to help industry workers. The Greg Hill Foundation is a great one in the Boston area. Reach out to your representatives in local government to push for retroactive changes to the business interruption clauses for business insurance policies. The more voices they hear, the better our chances are for an overhaul to the policies that are denying coverage to local restaurants based on policies that are designed to keep payouts to a minimum. This would help save thousands of restaurants.
What has been a constant in your fridge/pantry as you’ve been cooking more at home?
There are a few staples that we have around at basically all times. Canned tomatoes are a good one because they’re so versatile. Quinoa is another one — it’s nutritious and easy to cook. We almost always have excessive amounts of hot sauce as well. We use it probably too much.
Tell us about this recipe.
This has been a favorite of ours for years. It’s a simple recipe that takes a little practice and a lot of love.
Tuscan bean and kale soup with pork sausage
1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 pork sausage (I like mine spicy)
1 bunch of curly kale, roughly chopped
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomato, crushed with your hands
5 cloves of garlic, peeled, trimmed, and finely chopped
1 yellow onion, diced small
1 cup red wine (whatever you’re planning to drink with the soup)
1 tablespoon red chili flakes
1-2 cups water
Add enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a two-gallon, heavy-bottomed soup pot and turn the heat to medium. Make sure the oil is starting to shimmer before you start adding ingredients.
Peel the sausages if necessary. Break the meat up into small pieces and put them in the pot with your olive oil. Start slowing rendering the sausage in the pot, stirring whenever and wherever the meat is sticking. At this point, there should be additional fat in the pan from the rendering sausage. Once the meat starts to brown, add the onion, garlic, red chili flake, and a light sprinkling of salt to the sausage, oil, and fat. Continue to stir as necessary and keep sweating the aromatics until they are slightly translucent and very fragrant. Do not be alarmed by the brown fond from the sausage that will start to form as the cooking continues. This will help to create an extra layer of flavor. That being said, make sure the fond stays golden brown and doesn’t get too dark.
When the fond reaches a nice golden brown color and your aromatics are appropriately sweated, add your wine to deglaze and scrape to unstick the fond. Let the wine reduce by half before adding all of the kale and a small pinch of salt. Let the kale cook until it has a nice sheen and has wilted entirely. Add the tomatoes and their juice to the mixture. Stir to incorporate and add the beans and water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes to one hour and adjust with salt to your desired seasoning.
Add 8 to 10 ounces of the soup to a deep soup bowl and drizzle a little bit of nice olive oil over the top. As most soups are, this is even better with a hunk of crusty bread and a glass of nice wine.
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