Today is the first day of fall that actually feels like fall! We woke up to a cool, drizzly Sunday, and after three days of 90-degree weather, it’s a welcome change.
As my self-proclaimed idea guy, Brian is always dreaming up things he’d like me to cook. Often they’re inspired by ingredients we have on hand and other times they’re dredged up from childhood memories in his parents’ kitchens or restaurants around St. Louis. When the weather turned cooler a few weeks ago, Brian decided that he wanted ham and bean soup like his dad used to make. Since we recently decided to try to avoid canned food, I was excited to cook with dried beans for the first time (super easy and cheaper than canned beans). The search for a smoked ham hock for the base of the soup brought me to Eastern Market for the first time in over 2 years (and the second time since I’ve lived in DC). I appreciate the market even more this time than I did two years ago, and I’m planning to make it a regular stop! It’s so refreshing to find real butchers. (Not like the ones at the grocery store, who looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language when I asked for a ham hock.)
The recipe below is based upon instructions from Brian’s dad, with a few of my own tweaks.
Ham and Cannellini Bean Soup
1 pound dried cannellini beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups fully cooked ham, diced (about 1/2 pound)
freshly ground black pepper
salt, as needed
The night before making the soup, pick through the beans and discard any that are wrinkled or discolored. Then rinse the beans and soak overnight in a pot with 6 cups of water.
Drain the beans.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, cover the ham hock with water by about 2 inches. Bring to boil. Reduce heat slightly and maintain a gentle boil for 1 hour, adding water as necessary to cover ham.
After about 45 minutes, sauté chopped vegetables over medium heat with about 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, until vegetables are tender and just begin to brown.
Add the vegetables, bay leaves, and drained beans to the pot with the ham hock.
Cover and boil for another 1.5 to 3 hours, until the beans reach desired tenderness and ham hock is falling off the bone, like so:
During approximately the last 1/2 hour of cooking, add the diced ham.
Before serving, remove bay leaves and ham hock from soup. Discard skin, fat, and bone, Chop remaining ham and add back to the pot.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt, if needed (ours didn’t need any additional salt).
Serve with cornbread, an onion wedge, and a small mound of sea salt.*
*The McCue method for eating ham and bean soup:
- Take one layer of onion wedge.
- Dip onion in salt.
- Bite onion.
- Take a bite of soup.
- (I was scared at first, too. But it was quite tasty and fun!)