Every year around this time, mid-January to February, I find myself pulling out my old Clipper Cruise Line cookbook and revisiting some of our favorite recipes from our years at sea.

Clipper Cruise Line, now no longer in existence, was a small-ship cruise line devoted to providing the very best experience in the world of luxury expedition cruises.

While our menus often featured local flavors from our ports of call, our cuisine was also renowned for its focus on American specialties, including recipes we have previously shared here like Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf and Clipper Chipper Cookies, and today's savory and filling Southern Black Bean Soup. We gladly credit Clipper's former corporate executive chef, Robert Colosimo, for creating these recipes that have now become favorites in our home.

Tony and I are both wanderers at heart, and when we chose to stop sailing and make Fargo our permanent home 17 years ago, it was after nearly a decade of traveling around the world.

Our careers included visits to all seven continents and were split between two companies - Holland America Line and Clipper Cruise Line.

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We loved both lines for different reasons, but our careers began and ended with Clipper, and it was this company that brought us together and shaped our destinies in the world of hospitality. These recipes are favorites for more than just their overall deliciousness. They take us back to a time when we were in the formative years of our travel careers, young and in love with the sea - and each other.

After settling in Fargo, establishing a business and starting our family, our wanderlust returned and five years ago we began exploring a new place, one that was almost completely foreign to us in both our knowledge and experience: North Dakota.

Over the past five years we have traveled to all four corners of our state, visited dozens of towns and cities along the way and formed lasting friendships with farmers, ranchers and small-town business people. We have still only scratched the surface.

I had grown up hearing the phrase, "North Dakota feeds the world," but until we began exploring our state, I'd never actually thought about what that meant, and I'd certainly never related it back to the food I ate.

Now, it's almost a challenge to find a food that isn't in some way influenced by North Dakota agriculture, including this black bean soup. North Dakota is the nation's top producer of dry edible beans, a group that includes black beans.

Black beans are native to the Americas and an excellent source of nutrition. They are loaded with nutrients that promote healthy organs and tissues, boost immunity and make stronger muscles, regulate blood sugar and improve cardiovascular health, including folate, fiber, phytonutrients, B vitamins and a host of essential minerals.

Chef Colosimo's recipe is adapted from one he found in Savannah, Ga., and includes important flavor builders like bacon, smoked ham hock, dry sherry, fresh lime juice and Worcestershire sauce. I found the ham hock in packs of two in the frozen meat section of a local grocery store. They were each about half a pound in weight so I used one and froze the other for later use. The original recipe calls for two cups of dried beans, but I used four 15-ounce cans of black beans instead, which greatly shortened my cooking time without compromising the soup.

Hearty, full of flavor and beyond delicious, this soup brings two of our favorite travel experiences together in one dish, and we hope you love it, too.

Southern Black Bean Soup

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

4 15-ounce cans black beans or 2 cups dried black beans*

3 strips bacon, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced small

1 stalk celery, diced small

1 medium carrot, diced small

1 smoked ham hock, ½ to ¾ pound

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

¼ cup dry sherry

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

*If using dried bean, pick through black beans and remove any stones. Place the beans in a pot and fill with 3 cups of cold water. Bring to a simmer. When the beans have reached a simmer, remove from the heat and let stand for 1 hour. Strain the beans and discard the liquid; set aside.

In a pot, sauté the diced bacon over medium heat until brown. Add the garlic and onions and continue cooking over medium to medium-low heat until the onions have softened and appear translucent. Add diced celery and carrot and sauté over medium heat for an additional 5 minutes.

Add black beans, ham hock, stock and spices and simmer over medium-low heat until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove pot from burner and discard the bay leaf and ham hock. Use a handheld immersion blender, liquid blender or food processor to puree half of the soup, then add it back to the rest of the soup. The amount of beans that you puree determines the thickness of the soup and can be adjusted according to your taste.

Return pot to burner and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Season with the Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, dry sherry and salt. Garnish with slivered scallions, diced cooked ham and sour cream.

To store: Refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze for at least two months.

Lightly adapted from "Cooking Adventures from the Clipper Galley" by Chef Robert Colosimo

Sarah's Tips:

  • For easier cutting, chill the bacon in the freezer for 10 to 15 minute before dicing.
  • This soup also makes an excellent warm dip or nacho topping.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.