Photo: Christopher Testani; Styling: Alistair Turnbull
Hands-on Time
15 Mins
Total Time
8 Hours 45 Mins
Serves 8 (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups soup, 4 meatballs, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cheese)

How to Make It

Step 1

Place first 8 ingredients in a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Discard thyme and bay leaf.

Step 2

Stir kale, tomato paste, and salt into bean mixture. Shape sausage into 32 meatballs; arrange on top of bean mixture. Cover and cook on HIGH 30 minutes or until meatballs are thoroughly cooked. Stir in juice. Divide soup among 8 bowls; top with cheese.

Ratings & Reviews

February 25, 2016
Next time, place the beans in enough cold water to cover the beans.  Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute.  Remove from heat and leave covered.  Drain the beans until there is no color coming from them.  Add to your recipe and cook as directed.  This is called the "quick soak method".  Always works for me.  Good luck.

LauraD318's Review

February 21, 2015
There were a lot off good elements to this recipe and some room for improvement. The prep work to get everything ready for the crock pot was a breeze. I love cooking with beans and that element of the soup was wonderful. In regards to room for improvement, I'm not sure hot Italian sausage was the right protein. I'm not sure if it was the sausage or the sausage mixed with the flavor from the bay but it was pretty overpowering. Weird as I actually like Italian sausage. Next time I'm going to try it with kielbasa or a milder chicken sausage. I really did like the recipe as a whole and will make it again with a different protein

September 17, 2016
I used Bob's Red Mill Small White Beans (2 cups) and 64 oz (1 1/2 cups more than recipe called for) of Progresso's reduced sodium chicken stock and they came out perfect. My sausage balls were about an inch big and were cooked through at 30 minutes. Maybe it was your crock-pot.

October 28, 2017
@MichelleO We love the flavor of this soup. Thanks for sharing your bean type, I'll try buying Bob's Red MIll small white beans bc mine have come out crunchy three times using Kroger brand Great Northern Beans, the first two times in my Rival crock pot on low, first time followed recipe and second time cooked longer on both high and low. That crock pot gave up after about 18 years and I bought a new kitchen aid that has performed beautifully the past 2 months, so I used the medium heat setting and the beans were still crunchy. So, I think the bean brand/type may be a key. I know it was 2016 when you posted, but I hope you get to see this.  

Okay, but room for improvement

May 11, 2015
I loved the ease of this recipe but, like another reviewer, I'm not sure Italian sausage was the right fit. We adore hot Italian sausage and add it to everything (e.g. often sub it for regular ground meat in lasagna, baked ziti, even chili), but it just seemed out of place here. Might try again with a different sausage, because otherwise the soup is tasty and a cinch to prepare.

Love the flavor, but need help for undercooked beans

October 28, 2017
I've made this recipe three times because we love the flavor, but the beans are crunch, twice with my older oval crockpot on low, first to the directions, second extended times on low and high, and the third with my two month old Kitchen Aid that has performed beautifully.  I went with the medium setting and used Kroger brand Great Northern Beans, same as the first two times.  Another review has a response noting the person used Bob's Red Mill Small White beans and it was perfect. So I'll try these, I also see some people saying to go ahead and presoak the beans, any responses on cooking beans in the slow cooker so they have a soft texture I would welcome.  Thank you.

CherylT's Review

February 26, 2015
Delicious and very easy! I really enjoyed the Italian sausage meatballs but I would make them a little smaller - maybe 1/2T or so. Instead of spicy sausage I used Sicilian sausage which contains extra fennel and I thought the taste was great. I will definitely make this again as I am always looking for ways to add more beans and greens to my family's diet.

LanieNC's Review

February 19, 2015
I made this exactly to the recipe and it was fabulous. My husband asked "please keep this recipe to make it again!".

AAD329's Review

March 06, 2015
Instant hit in our household. Love that there's no browning to do in the morning -- just dump it all in the cooker and go. Tips: 1) This thickens up -- definitely more of a stew than a soup. We added more broth to it with the meatballs. 2) Definitely allow more time for the meatballs to cook - up to an hour (especially if the cooker has been on "keep warm" for a while before you turn it on to HIGH). Not sure I'll even include the sausage next time as this is a hearty dish even without them!

grangail2's Review

March 01, 2015
The flavor of this soup is outstanding and very hearty. However, we were disappointed with the texture of the beans: after 8 hours of slow cooking and the additional 30 minutes of High crock pot setting the beans were still a little crunchy! Also, the meatballs were not thoroughly cooked in the amount of time give on High setting. I had to cook them twice as long as directed. I'm trying to come up with the reason why, and I have 2 guesses. (1) I did not use salt free chicken broth, mine was reduced sodium. Could it be the sodium in the liquid prevented the beans from softening? and (2) my crock pot is circa 1980 and maybe the heating element is not as efficient as it needs to be??? I will try this soup again with the exact ingredients called for and a new crockpot! The flavor was that good!