Here is a soup when you want something simple and filling and with variations to keep it interesting – pureed and with the addition of Italian chicken sausage.
White beans, soaked overnight, are simmered with browned sliced fennel and onions, garlic and fresh thyme leaves until softened – about 45 minutes to one hour. At this point the soup can be seasoned with salt and pepper and you’re done. But if you prefer a thicker soup it can be partially pureed. I recommend pureeing with an immersion blender – something I had not used until I was given one as a birthday gift several years ago. Being a kitchen gadget minimalist I had resisted buying one. But now I can’t imagine not having it, given the ease in using it and that you can puree the soup right in the pan. That’s one less dish to clean.
Fennel bulb is in season from the fall into the spring. Often referred to as “celery like” it gives the soup an underlying sweet and aromatic flavor. If you’re not familiar cooking with it, I’ve given photos and easy directions below for trimming and slicing. It’s one of my favorite winter vegetables.
I thought for sure I would be happy with the vegetarian version of this soup, but then I added the browned Italian chicken sausage. It’s a toss up. I say let your family be your guide.
- 1 lb white beans (great northern or cannelini) covered by 2 inches of water and soaked overnight in the refrigerator
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups sliced or chopped fennel bulb (2 medium) reserving fronds (dill-like leaves) for garnish)
- 2 cups chopped onion (1 medium)
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 10 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I prefer low sodium)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Red pepper flakes, optional to taste
- 12 to 16 oz Italian chicken sausage (I prefer Isernios brand), optional (see recipe directions)
- Drain soaked beans.
- In a medium size stockpot over medium heat, cook onion and fennel in olive oil until softened and light brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Add vegetable stock, drained beans and thyme; bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat (broth should be lightly simmering) until beans are soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour; season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes for spiciness, if desired. Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds.
- For pureed soup: transfer half of the soup to a food processor and puree to desired consistency, then stir back into the soup. Or keep the soup in the stockpot, and off the heat using an immersion blender, puree leaving some of the beans whole. Reheat soup if necessary.
- For the sausage option: heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; add sausage, breaking up into pieces and cook and stir until sausage is browned and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir into soup.
Cutting fennel bulb
Slice off the stalks and fronds (dill-like leaves)
Slice off the root end
Cut a small piece off one side so fennel bulb won’t roll when slicing it. Then place it cut side down on a cutting board.