Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Unseasonable but DELICIOUS soup!

There has been precious little summer in these parts this year; nevertheless, something possessed me to make a big pot of a wintry soup on a day when the heat index was 103! Still...it was DELICIOUS! It was inspired by my sweet friend from college, Claire, who makes a black bean, chicken breast, and (double!) fennel soup--she swears by its antioxidant properties.

I decided to use some lovely beans that came in my last shipment from Rancho Gordo. They are called Zarco beans, a heritage Mexican varietal about the size of navy beans, and before they are cooked, they resemble tiny Easter eggs in all their pastel hues. The best thing about these beans, besides their beauty, is that they can take a long cooking time without the texture breaking down, so if you make this soup in a slow cooker or at a low temperature for several hours in the oven, the Zarcos will hold up for you. Put this one on file for fall and winter. It's so good and so good for you!

Photo Credit: Rancho Gordo

Zarco Bean, Fennel, and Chicken Sausage Soup

1 lb. Zarco beans, soaked (or black beans or what you like)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, diced
4 large stalks celery, diced (leaves, too)
1 large bulb fennel, diced (fronds, too)
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 whole head of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable soup base (I like Better Than Bouillon)
1 can diced Italian-style tomatoes (the juice, too)
1 lb. chicken sausage, thickly-sliced
big handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Pick over the beans and remove any debris. Rinse thoroughly, then cover the beans with an inch of water. Let soak for 4-6 hours (if you have the time...if not, proceed on to the next step right away).

In a five-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil and saute the onions, celery, fennel, carrots, and garlic until softened. Pour in the beans and their soaking liquid, plus another six cups of water. Add the bay leaves, cumin, pepper, and soup base, and stir. Bring to a boil, and boil for five minutes (ten if you haven't pre-soaked them).

Cover the pot and place in the oven on 170 degrees (or transfer to a crock pot on low) for four hours. Add the tomatoes and the sliced sausage and cook for up to another two hours on low (until the beans are sufficiently tender). Remove the bay leaves, taste to correct seasoning, and stir in the fresh parsley before serving.

*For a thicker soup, remove a cup of two of the beans, puree, and return to the pot.

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