Some Thoughts on Soup and A Basic Ham and Bean Soup Recipe

My love of soup goes much deeper than just a great meal. I firmly believe that soup is the foundation of a creative and productive kitchen and involves a process that can satisfy a peasant’s soul, especially when shared with family, friends, and neighbors.

First, soup is the ultimate convenience food. With little effort or investment of time, one can prepare the basic ingredients before a long, slow cook at the back of the stove as you go about your busy day, and when complete, soup can be served for both lunch and dinner throughout the upcoming week or frozen for later use.

Second, soups are versatile, as they provide for both a well-received course as part of a dinner party menu or as the star of the show for a simple rustic supper by the fireside with some great bread, cheese, and wine.

Third, soup is the ultimate waste-reduction tool within the creative cook’s repertoire. Drippings and leftover meats from a roast, vegetables that will be past their prime in a few days, or odds and ends of pastas, grains, and other bits found in a well-stocked pantry are the building blocks of not only a great soup but an economically managed kitchen as well.

Last, I also hold out that soup may perhaps be the answer to the question of hunger throughout this country and the world. Soup has always been the birthright of the proud peasant. When economic condition or time of famine did not allow for grand culinary endeavors, soup was the basis for simple sustenance. It is economical in cost and simple in technique, and little in the way of equipment is required to produce a delicious and nutritious meal that will not only sustain but provide the very best the season, the kitchen, and life has to offer.

Here you will find a very simple Ham and Bean Soup recipe, one that I enjoy myself quite often. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Ingredients:

2–3 Smoked Ham Hocks (If ham hocks are unavailable, any smoked pork product, like ham end, trotters, etc., will do.)

2 Large Yellow Onions, chopped, and 1 Whole Yellow Onion, cut in half and unpeeled

1 Stalk Celery, chopped, and 2 Whole Celery Ribs

4 Carrots, peeled and chopped, as well as 1 Whole Carrot, unpeeled

Dried or canned Beans of your choice

Black Pepper

Dried or Fresh Bay Leaf

Dried or Fresh Oregano

Dried or Fresh Basil

Dried or Fresh Thyme

Whole Peppercorns

Method:

The Broth:

Place the ham hocks, whole onion (cut in half), 2 celery ribs (cut in half), whole carrot (broken in half), a few peppercorns, and the bay leaf into a stock or soup pot and cover with water. Yes, I have suggested that you do not peel the carrot or the onion as I believe that this adds additional flavor to the broth. In support of this step, I recently completed a Master Class by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame and found that she adds unpeeled carrots, onions, garlic, etc., to her broth as well; thus, I can only believe that great minds must think alike, and I can assure you that I have not lost my mind.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for one and a half to two hours until the broth has become very dark and the meat is falling off the bone.

Strain, and reserve both the broth and the ham hocks while discarding the peppercorn and bay leaf. Allow the ham hocks to cool and remove meat from the bone and chop into bite-size pieces.

The Final Soup Assembly:

In your stock or soup pot, sauté the chopped vegetables in a little olive oil until just soft and slightly translucent. Add the chopped meat and either dried beans that have been soaked in water overnight or canned beans to the pot. I prefer great northern beans myself, but please feel free to add your favorite bean of choice. Add the ham hock broth to the pot. Taste the broth, and if too strong in flavor, dilute with some water to your taste. Add the remaining spices I have suggested within the ingredient list but feel free to add your favorite herbs and spices as well.

Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the soup for at least two hours or longer to allow the flavors to develop.

Don’t forget to add a few homemade croutons as a garnish. To make the croutons, toss a few roughly chopped pieces of bread with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, dried oregano, and dried basil and place on a sheet pan in a single layer and bake in a very hot oven (400–450 f) until brown and crisp.

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