I’m tired of winter. Today is a bit warmer, but it is pouring buckets. This, after a weekend blizzard upstate, that left us digging out of 20 inches of snow. I want sunny days and light meals but instead I’m still making soups and braises and rich desserts. Trying to finish off the beans I brought back from San Francisco (see a February post and ranchogordo.com), I decided to prepare an old winter favorite in the soup category, black bean.
Years ago, this soup was a specialty of the Coach House, a venerated New York restaurant owned by Leon Lianides (don’t ask me how I remember his name) that was “the” place to go when you wanted to celebrate. (I also remember an occasion there where my children’s father asked the waiter for a “chateaubriand for two for three” which remains a family dining out joke). The Coach House closed in the early 90s and its space is now the home of Mario Batali’s much-admired Babbo, but serious diners of a certain age will always mention black bean soup when remembering the restaurant.
Don’t know why I’ve gone on about it ‘cause my recipe is not the Coach House recipe but comes straight from one of my now out of print books The Rediscovered Bean. It is, however, a good one and will serve you well throughout the year as it is delicious, chilled, with a dollop of crème frâiche or plain yogurt and a sprinkle of candied orange zest or crystallized ginger. The soup will keep for a few days in the fridge or it can easily be frozen for another day.
My Black Bean Soup
1 ½ cups dried black beans
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
Peel of 1 orange (preferably organic)
1 cup chopped winter squash or pumpkin
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery, leaves included
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 small smoked ham bone, optional
½ pound pancetta, optional
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup dry sherry wine
⅓ cup finely chopped or sieved hard boiled egg whites, optional
Lemon slices or chopped chives or whatever garnish you like
Place the beans in cold water to cover by 1-inch and set aside to soak for 8 hours or overnight.
Drain the beans and transfer to a large, heavy bottom saucepan. Add water to cover by 3-inches along with the carrots, orange peel, squash, onions, celery, parsley, and garlic. Place over medium-high heat, stirring to blend. If using, add the ham bone and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, at a gentle simmer, for 2 hours or until the beans are very soft. If necessary, add additional water to keep the mixture from drying out.
If using the pancetta about a half hour or so before the beans are done,
place the cubed meat in a cold frying pan over medium-low heat. Fry, turning frequently, for about 12 minutes or until the fat has rendered out and the meat is nicely browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a double layer of paper towel to drain.
When the beans are very soft, remove and discard the orange peel and, if used,
the ham bone (or give it to the dog). Stir in the lemon juice, cumin, and thyme. Taste and season with salt (if necessary) and pepper. Return to medium heat and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Transfer to a blender – in batches, if necessary – or food processor fitted with the metal blade and process to a smooth puree.
Return the puree to a clean saucepan. Stir in the sherry and place over medium heat. Cook just until heated through.
Remove from the heat and stir in the pancetta. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Ladle into hot shallow soup bowls. If desired, garnish the top with the egg white and a lemon slice or minced chives or a dollop of crème frâiche or plain yogurt or whatever you have on hand that will look spectacular against the lovely soft black soup.
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