Spring is undoubtedly here in Victoria: we are in full bloom and winter seems to either be playing a wicked trick or its decided we’ve been good and it will head East to shower its blessings upon the other side of Canada. Fresh spring air makes my mouth start watering for all those dishes that traditionally mean spring, so with guests coming for dinner we roasted a big ham, with fresh green beans (obviously not local) and mashed potatoes. I never seem to realise just how big a ham really is and how much will remain after all the company has departed. This leaves more than one or two nights of leftovers and so after many versions of ham sandwiches, and ham salads we still had a fair portion left, with of course the humongous ham bone. Ham bones seem to instantly dictate ham and split pea soup especially when you know everyone in the house loves it. However, I wanted something just a bit different and not quite so “Quebec snowy” to celebrate this warm weather and plentitude of flowers, I decided that we just needed something lighter, fresher and maybe just a bit perkier.
At this time of year we are also blessed in our local “thrifty’s” grocery store with the best oranges that I have ever eaten. They are called Buckbrand organic oranges and they carry quite a story with them.
These are in no way the oranges of old that tend to be dry and yucky in the centre; but rather the opposite, oozing a sweet liquid gold that screams squeeze me, drink me! Blackbeans and orange are old friends and make a rather refreshing flavour profile together, add a bit of punch with chili pepper, and spices and you have the perfect hearty revitalizing soup that just so symbolizes all that I love about spring – besides my birthday!
2 cups dried black beans, rinsed and soaked for 10 minutes
75 grams hot pancetta – you can find this in a deli or Italian shops
4 cups (1 litre) chicken stock and additional water or stock as needed
1 ham bone (meat left on) or 2 ham hocks
bouquet garni ( I used thyme, rosemary and bay leaf)
1 cup orange juice
1 cup dry sherry
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt & pepper and chili flakes to taste
plain yoghurt or sour cream
tarragon as garnish
Rinse and soak the black beans for about 10 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in a large pot with the broth, ham bone and the bouquet garni. It will be easier to retrieve the bouquet garni if you tie it together. Cover the pot. Simmer these on low, stirring occasionally until the beans are soft but not mushy. This could take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 or 4 hours depending on the heat of your stove. Personally, I like to cook them longer and slower as this seems to impart more flavour from the bone. If the mixture becomes too thick, add water or more broth a little at a time.
Once you have the beans cooking, its time to prepare the rest of the sunny flavour. Dice the pancetta into small pieces and cook it over medium heat until it starts to crisp up. Remove from the pan and place on a piece of paper towel to drain.
Cook the onion, and garlic in the residual fat (adding olive oil if necessary) until they are soft and golden. Reserve with the pancetta.
When the beans are cooked take out the ham bones pulling the meat away from the bone and either shred or cut into small pieces leaving it with the beans.
Next add all the cooking liquids as well as orange juice and sherry and combine all remaining ingredients in pot. Bring the soup to a simmer cooking for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Personally, I like to serve it with scoop of plain yoghurt, a sprinkle of chilis and perhaps a sprig of tarragon.
*( If you don’t have pancetta or can’t find it, you could substitute bacon and just increase your chilies by using 3 thai red chilies – make sure to seed them and then finely chop avoiding putting your hands near your face )