I have some very talented friends. One, Chef Jared VanCamp, does amazing things with pork. Lovely beautiful things. This year he sold a limited number of house made hams and salumis for the holidays. I, of course, bought a few things and oh my lord were they good. Amazingly good. That ham was a boneless cherry wood smoked wonder and the finocchio salumi was just fantastic. But here’s the twist … me being me, I carried my special purchases along on the flight to Phoenix for the holidays. Didn’t even think twice about it but apparently I have several friends who find this hysterical. Oh sure, it may have caused some concern with TSA and perhaps an extra security screening during which I learned that hams look a little suspicious on the x-ray screen no matter their pedigree. Whatever. But what really sent my pals into fits of giggles is that I brought a chunk back with me. I see absolutely nothing funny about this. That was a damn good ham and it was coming home with me.
So that small precious chunk has been sitting in my fridge while I figured out what to do. Tomorrow I think I’ll make a classic quiche lorraine – onions, Gruyère, that ham, eggs and cream. Sounds good doesn’t it? But today, I decided to make some navy bean soup. I had a cup of what was deemed “navy bean soup” at a hack deli last week and it’s bugged me ever since. I’ve been craving a do-over.
It was the right call. Savory, creamy and filling; just the right thing for this frigid day. I cut a piece of my coveted ham – just a piece! – into chunks and simmered it along with some aromatics (carrots, celery, onion, garlic) and some beans I’d soaked the night before. An hour or two on the back burner brought out a wonderful smoky flavor from the ham and turned the beans creamy and soft. It was good as is but better after I pureed about a cup and stirred it back in for a little extra creaminess. Lunch was a nice big bowl and a slice of sourdough bread I’d baked earlier. Tasty.
If you don’t have leftover special ham, a chunk from your local deli will do. Just make sure it’s good ham and not the kind that’s formed and jellied. Ick. Or a ham steak would work well too. Or how about this … while I was cleaning out my fridge today, I came across a link of smoked kielbasa leftover from a New Year’s Eve fondue and thought that would be rather tasty in this soup, cut into small chunks. I should probably mention too that the recipe below is a full batch made with one pound of dried beans but I made a half batch today so if my photos look off, well, that would be why.
As for that ham? Get in line for next year. Dead serious. But you’ll be lining up behind me. Fair warning, I kick and have sharp elbows.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: SOLID. This is a solid recipe. Nothing too challenging and the results are warm and comforting. Just perfect for this time of year. It’s the kind of thing you bring over to a sick friend to make them smile. Or what you eat after shoveling your car out of the snow. Side benefit? It warms up the kitchen rather nicely and the scent of simmering pork makes the whole house smell divine. Not too shabby.
NAVY BEAN SOUP
1 pound dried navy beans, rinsed and sorted
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
6 ounces diced ham, about 1 cup
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 ½ quarts low-salt chicken stock
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
kosher salt to taste
3 Tablespoons parsley, finely minced
- First off you need to soak the beans. You have two options: 1) overnight soak or 2) quick-soak.
- For the overnight soak: At least 12 hours in advance, place the beans in a large bowl of pot and cover with water by 3”. Let soak at least 12 hours, or overnight.
- For the quick-soak: Place the beans in a saucepan and cover with water by 2”. Bring to a boil, boil for 1 minute, turn off the heat and let sit for 1 hour.
- Drain and rinse the beans and set aside until needed.
- In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high.
- Sauté the onion until it just starts to soften, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the carrots and celery and continue to sauté until softened.
- Add the minced garlic, the diced ham and thyme sprigs and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the beans and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 1-1 ½ hours.
- Taste for seasoning. Depending how salty your stock and ham are, you may need to adjust the seasoning.
- Fish out and discard the thyme sprigs.
- Remove 1 cup of the mixture, avoiding the ham chunks if you can, and puree until smooth.
- Add the pureed mixture back into the soup and stir until blended.
- Serve hot and garnish with fresh minced parsley.