Mercurial March in a Bowl


To accompany March’s bipolar personality, here’s a soup to serve either hot or cold. A Portuguese fisherman’s wife in Morro Bay—a fishing community along the central California coast—shared this recipe with me when I lived there after college. White cannellini beans, potatoes, spicy sausage and fennel bulb fresh from the garden flavor this rich and hearty soup. 


Mercurial March in a Bowl


For 1 Batch(es)


  • 1 pounds dried cannellini beans (Great Northern or navy beans could work in a pinch)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, white parts only, chopped
  • 1 large fennel bulb, loosely chopped, reserving feathery foliage
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 8 cups rich chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 1 1/2 pounds white or new potatoes, unpeeled, cubed large
  • 3/4 pounds precooked spicy sausage (such as kielbasa), cooked on a griddle and then sliced
  • 1/2 cups amontillado sherry
  • condiments: green onions, fennel leaves, lemon slices, crushed cayenne, parsley sprigs

Mercurial March in a Bowl Directions

  1. Rinse the beans—discarding any pebbles and shriveled or discolored beans. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with about 2 inches of water. Over medium heat, bring to a gentle boil.
  2. Immediately remove from the heat and allow to stand for about an hour.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and cook the onion, leeks and fennel until slightly softened—about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, bay leaves, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and parsley and cook another few minutes.
  5. Drain the beans. Add the onion-fennel mixture and about 7 cups of stock to the pot. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce to simmer and cook until the beans are almost tender—about 1½ hours.
  6. If more liquid is needed, add small amounts of warm stock or water to prevent the beans from splitting. (The secret is simmering the soup very slowly on low heat, with just a few bubbles along the edge of the pan, and with just enough liquid to cover the beans by about 2 inches.)
  7. Add the potatoes and salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes.
  8. Add the sausage and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  9. Add the sherry and 4 tablespoons of the reserved and chopped fennel leaves during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
  10. Adjust the seasoning if needed and remove the pot from the heat.
  11. Let the pot stand, covered, for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh fennel sprigs. Like many soups, it tastes even better the next day.
  12. If you wish to serve the soup chilled: Using an immersion blender or a blender, puree the soup—adding more stock as needed and a big splash of sherry and perhaps some vinho verde. If you want more texture, reserve some of the soup without pureeing and combine it with the pureed mixture. Chill for 6 hours. Adjust flavors before serving.

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