RECIPE: Northern Italian Soup of Fennel Sausage, Borlotti Beans and Red Onion

By Henry Gould – Dec 19th, 2018

Combining cured pork and beans is about as old-school as it gets. Nearly every culture that raises pigs and eats legumes has a tradition of combining the two together, usually to delicious and comforting results. From the pit beans you get with southern BBQ to Spanish chorizo and chickpeas, the two almost always find themselves in the pot together.

I make this particular soup throughout the Fall and Winter. It’s incredibly simple to cook, requires hardly any ingredients, and the result tastes much more complex than the sum of its parts. The roots of the recipe are Northern Italy, where richer, darker, “browner” foods reign supreme over their tomato-based cousins to the south. I have romantic visions of eating a soup like this for lunch on a cold winters day in Turin, sitting next to some Nutella executives having a business meeting. This is what everyone dreams about, right…?

One of the keys to this recipe is good quality Italian fennel sausages. My favorite in Vancouver come from Columbus Meat Market on Nanaimo St. It’s an amazing butcher shop with a charming old-school vibe; the staff are all watching soccer, speaking Italian, chatting with the regulars. If you go on a Saturday afternoon, prepare for chaos as it’s always very, very busy…

The other key is borlotti beans, otherwise known as romano or cranberry beans. Chickpeas or cannellini beans work too, but always opt for dried over canned. Any dried bean needs at least a few hours soaking in 4x their volume of water (i.e. 1 cup dried beans = 4 cups soaking water).

Northern Italian Soup of Fennel Sausage, Borlotti Beans and Red Onion

  • 1 cup dried borlotti beans, soaked in 4 cups water
  • 2 fennel sausages, removed from their casings
  • 1 red onion, chopped roughly
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • Sprig of rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Nutmeg seed
  • Sea Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • For serving
    • Balsamic Vinegar
    • Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or any other aged Italian cheese)

Melt some butter and olive oil in a large pot and put on medium heat. Add the de-cased sausages and start to break up with a wooden spoon or spatula. Ideally you don’t want any big chunks. Continue to cook on medium heat until the sausage starts to brown; about 15 minutes.

Add the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and rosemary. Take the nutmeg seed and grate about half into the pot using a microplane grater, or the finest side on a box grater. Cook for another few minutes.

Pour in the beans, along with their soaking water. Once the soup comes to a boil, season with salt and pepper, lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for about an hour.

After an hour, have a taste to see if the beans are cooked. Ideally some should be falling apart, helping to give a creamy consistency. If not, cook for another 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. If you need to add more water during cooking, go ahead (it shouldn’t be too thick).

Once cooked, serve into bowls, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a few cracks of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

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