Notes: If making soup up to 3 days ahead, cool, cover, and chill. Or make weeks ahead and freeze. The soup thickens, so thin with more broth or water when reheating. Offer sour cream and hot sauce as accompaniments.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chopped onions
1 green bell pepper (1/2 lb.), stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 cup chopped celery, including leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1 pound dried black beans
1 can (49 oz.) or 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 smoked ham hock (about 1 1/4 lb.), cut in half lengthwise
1/3 cup medium-dry madeira or dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon pepper
How to Make It
In a 6- to 8-quart pan over medium heat, combine oil, onions, green pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Cover and stir occasionally until vegetables are limp, about 10 minutes.
Sort through the beans and discard debris. Rinse and drain beans.
Add beans, broth, 3 cups water, and ham hock to pan. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Turn heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring often, until ham hock is very tender when pierced, about 1 1/2 hours.
With a slotted spoon, lift out hock. Let stand until cool enough to touch. If beans are soft when pressed, remove from heat. If not, cover and continue to simmer until they are. Pull meat off the hock, discarding bones and skin. Chop meat and return to soup.
Add madeira to soup and stir over medium heat until steaming. Discard bay leaf. Add pepper and salt to taste.
For a thicker soup, purée up to half of it in a blender or food processor, then return to pan and stir. Serve hot.