Not surprisingly, this soup originated in Northern Italy, near its border with Austria.
You can easily recognize non-traditional Italian ingredients with sauerkraut being the star of this comforting winter soup. When I told JB this was what he was eating for dinner, he raised an eyebrow and I think I saw disappointment in his eyes, but I told him to trust me on this one, that he would love it. And he did, asking for seconds.
Sauerkraut, like plain cabbage, mellows down when it cooks for a long time. The smokiness of the bacon or Speck, along with the full flavour of borlotti beans, the herbs and spices and sauerkraut is a perfect marriage of flavours.
If you can’t find borlotti beans*, you can certainly replace them with cannellini beans and cook them in the same manner. I would not use red kidney beans for this soup. If you use fresh borlotti or cranberry beans, reduce the cooking time a bit. Canned beans are not recommended for this recipe. It is up to you if you want to use the sauerkraut as is, with its liquid, or drain it and rinse it under cold water before adding to the soup. I use it as is, with the liquid.
For a vegetarian version, (obviously) omit the bacon or Speck, replace the chicken broth by vegetable broth, and use 10-12 dashes of liquid Hickory smoke when you add the broth.
* Borlotti, cranberry and Roman/romano beans are all the same.
Borlotti bean, potato and sauerkraut soup
For the soup:
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
75 g (3 oz) slab bacon or Speck, diced
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight, then drained
5 yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes
2 cups good quality sauerkraut
2 L (8 cups) chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Flavour packet: (wrap the ingredients in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine)
3 bay leaves
4 to 5 sage leaves
10 to 12 juniper berries, cracked
3 sprigs thyme
1. In a large pot over medium-low heat, cook the bacon or Speck in the olive oil until it starts to crisp up. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
2. Add the beans, the broth and the flavour packet and cook for approximately 40 minutes, or until the beans are tender.
3. Add the potatoes and the sauerkraut and continue to cook for another 45 minutes or until the potatoes and the beans are completely cooked and tender.
4. Taste and correct seasonings. Remove the flavour packet and serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil.