If I were to free associate for a minute on the topic of black beans, soup probably wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind. For some reason, my husband’s stories of growing up in California pop up first, where lunch was usually a burrito chock full of chicken and black beans. He or some other unfortunate soul would inadvertently cap a tooth with one and spend the rest of the day ambling around with a tooth that appeared to be decaying, or worse, missing.
Food wedged in teeth aside, black beans have tremendous health benefits, with a magical protein/fiber combination unrivaled by most food groups. I’m into eating magic, but I’m also a big fan of eating things that taste good and are healthy to boot. So we eat a lot of black beans around here, especially black bean soup.
I’d grown a bit tired of the usual suspects as heavenly as they are- black bean soup with bacon, sherry and a touch of cream, a Mexican-style soup chock full of cumin and topped with a heavy spray of cilantro. But with a big bag of fennel pork sausage in the fridge, limited time, and a sense of adventure, I decided to throw my usual repertoire a curveball. In particular, I needed something comforting and hearty to welcome home R from a 2-day business trip where presumably he sustained himself on Starbucks and airplane peanuts.
This is a versatile soup- adapting well to anyone’s soup needs, from super smooth to chunky and toothsome (we tend to prefer the latter). Searching for some booze to deglaze the ridiculously crusty, golden pork bits stuck to my pan after browning, I was tempted to go the lazy route of dumping in a few glugs of white from the fridge, but at the last moment, decided to put my dusty old bottle of vermouth to good use. I haven’t made a martini since…well I don’t think I’ve actually ever made one, so why we have not one, but two very large bottles of vermouth on our bar is a more than a little perplexing.
But there is something about vermouth that’s subtle, herbaceous, and a perfect complement to those gorgeous fennel pork sausages that started the soup out on the right foot. I don’t know if it was the beans working their magic again, or the unusual combination of textures and flavors that made this soup familiar yet different, but whatever it was, it’s happening again in my kitchen. And pretty damn soon.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lb bulk fennel pork sausage
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup dry (or extra dry) vermouth
- 2 16 oz cans black beans, drained
- 4 cups low salt chicken stock
- 4 tablespoons creme fraiche (optional)
- 4 tablespoons diced yellow pepper (optional)
- Few sprigs of parsley (optional)
- 1. Heat a 5.5-quart dutch oven on medium-high heat and when it's hot, add the olive oil. Add sausage, breaking up with a spoon until cooked through (about 6-8 minutes). Once cooked, remove with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel-lined bowl.
- 2. Drain the remaining oil so that there is 2 tablespoons remaining. Add the onion and carrots and sweat until the onions are nearly translucent and the carrots have softened.
- 3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- 4. Add the vermouth and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until it's reduced by half.
- 5. Add the beans and stock, bring to a boil, and simmer 10 minutes to marry the flavors and warm the beans.
- 6. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and puree the soup in batches.
- 7. Add the reserved sausage back to the soup, and because garnishing is half the fun, top with any combination of creme fraiche, diced pepper and parsley.
- If fennel sausage isn't available, any type of bulk pork sausage could work. Sage would be lovely. And if bulk pork sausage isn't available either (which often happens), just buy regular pork sausages and remove from their casing at home.
- Vermouth makes it not the ideal choice for a family dinner with kids, so if you're going that route, feel free to deglaze the soup with a quarter cup of water instead.
- If you're going for a smoother texture, don't add the sausage back to the soup as there will be plenty of smoky, meaty flavor from the initial sautee. Rather, you can use the sausage as garnish, or keep it for another use (pizza and pasta come to mind).