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HAM & BEAN SOUP
EASTER BONES 🐣🐰🐖🦴
My mom let me know at an early age that she was Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Not because she had a sadistic urge to crush my childhood naïveté, but because I asked, and she thought it was more important to tell me the truth than perpetuate a fantasy. She also wanted me to know that Christmas, Easter, and losing your teeth is about Jesus and not presents. These days Easter is about looking for creative places to hide joint-filled pastel eggs for my annual ladies-only brunch party. And ham of course. Of course, ham! Easter has long been one of my favorite holidays so, I’d say mama Renee did a damn good job.
But “Sarah,” you might say, “Easter was an entire ten days ago.” To that I say time is a flat circle and this is my world that we are living in, and if you didn’t intercept yours or your mother-in-law’s ham bone and throw it in your freezer, I don’t want to be your friend anymore. This is about what we’re going to do with that bone which is obviously to make soup. And that means I am finally going to talk about something that I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to talk about—BEANS, baby.
There are a lot of people out there talking about how to make the perfect pot of beans. A few years ago, I watched my queen, Carla Lalli Music, make a pot of beans on Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel, and my bean life was never the same. I’ve been making beans pretty much exactly this way since then, so I’ll just share exactly what she says. The following is taken directly from a 2018 Bon Appetit article and is an email from Patch Troffer, chef at Marlow & Son’s restaurant in Brooklyn to Carla Lalli Music with additional notes from Carla.
Hope this note finds you well.
I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the beans and were curious about what's in them. They're truly quite simple, and I have to give most of their credit to a perfect dried bean. I've been buying from Iacopi Farms in Half Moon Bay, CA for a long time now; Chez Panisse bought from them a lot, and their alum in turn continued to use their beans. I was thusly introduced to them. We've got a guy who ships the butterbeans to us weekly. I am unaware of anywhere here that sells them. They're truly perfect beans and worth the hunt.
I do a normal soak, just water, overnight in the walk-in. I bring to a boil, skim the scum, and I add salt. I like to add salt throughout the cooking process. I don't wait. Then lower to a simmer.
Carla’s Note: At home, put the beans in a big bowl, cover them with water and refrigerate them overnight, then transfer them to a big pot for cooking.
I confit a bunch of garlic and throw it all in with the confit oil. I like to have an inch or so fat cap on the top to keep the beans submerged. I'll add more salt here.
Carla’s Note: Don’t gloss over that part. “An inch or so” of fat should be sitting on the surface of your bean liquid. If you don’t have confit garlic, add whole peeled garlic cloves and lots of good olive oil. I keep random rendered fats in jars in my fridge, because I’m weird like that, and believe you could use schmaltz or ham fat if you wanted to make these not vegetarian.
I sometimes add an overripe tomato in the summer. I like savory with beans; I like mint with beans; oregano too. Salt. If I add herbs I do it repeatedly, so there are long-cooked herbs and freshly dropped herbs at the end. Salt.
Carla’s Note: The salt seems important, dig?
I like burnt lemon halves, salt.
Carla’s Note: No, I don’t generally have burned lemon halves on hand, either. If you want to emulate this, heat up a dry small skillet over medium-high heat, and cook two lemon halves, cut side down, until the surface is charred, 3–4 minutes, then add to the pot.
Sometimes I'll add a spice. The recent week you had them, I believe I was using coriander seed (along with mostly oregano, some mint; burnt lemons). Salt!
Carla’s Note: He is not playing around with the salt, people.
I cook the beans not even at a simmer and stir obsessively, gently. They'll be under-cooked and under-flavored for what seems like forever, until they're suddenly perfect.
Add more herb here, and final round of salt. A good glug of good vinegar too. I've been using sherry.
To serve, I am a firm believer of garlicky lemony loose aioli to stir in, and breadcrumbs too. Or at the very least some really great olive oil.
I'm not sure any of these are necessarily secrets, or none that you likely already know—I really think the magic is in the bean. But I hope that this was still somehow helpful?
If you make your beans like this, low and slow with plenty of fat and salt, you too will be forever changed and grateful for it. My favorite beans to use are Rancho Gordo. For this recipe I’m using the cassoulet bean. My second favorite, and easier to find, are Camelia baby lima beans. The third option is any old bag of dried beans from a bulk bin or grocery store shelf. But there is a crazily noticeable difference when you use a bean that is as fresh as possible. I also recommend soaking 8 hours or overnight, but I find that soaking is a personal preference so, you do you.
HAM & BEAN SOUP
Makes 4 quarts
1 lb. dried beans
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 ham bone
½ lb. small round potatoes, halved
2 handfuls chopped kale
1 lb. frozen peas
¼ cup chopped dill, plus some for garnish
1 tsp. white vinegar
Fresh-cracked pepper, to taste
Toasted breadcrumbs & olive oil for garnish (optional)
Soak beans in water for 8 hours or overnight. For a quick soak, use boiling water for one hour. In a Dutch oven, on medium-high heat, add onions and sauté until they are nicely browned or charred, and a fond starts to form on the bottom of the pot. Salt the onions and add the ham bone and dried beans. Add enough cold water to fully submerge the beans and ham bone—around 3 quarts. Add any fresh herbs that you have (whole sprigs of dill, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, etc.) Bring to a boil then reduce to a very gentle simmer, just bubbling here and there. Simmer for 1 hour then add the potatoes. Continue to simmer very gently until the beans and potatoes are fully cooked, 30 minutes to an hour, checking for doneness every ten minutes. Remove the ham bone and set aside. Add the kale, peas, chopped dill, and vinegar. Remove any ham from the bone and add it back into the soup. Discard the bone. Top soup with fresh pepper, red pepper flakes, toasted breadcrumbs, olive oil and more herbs. Slurp it up.
I didn’t have to go grocery shopping for anything for this soup and that is another point that I would like to mention—soup up your pantry. I always have an array of dried beans in my pantry and some sort of bones in my freezer. I always keep frozen peas because they belong everywhere. If you keep some very basic nonperishables around, you always have the means for soup. I started soaking my beans before I left for work in the morning and then I had a very easy dinner available when I got home.
A friend of mine brought over a stale loaf of focaccia that he had made over the weekend and then left it at my house when he left. I cut it up and threw it in the oven to dry it out and make breadcrumbs/croutons. Start croutoning your bread when it starts going bad and you’ll never have to throw away a moldy elbow again. AND you’ll always have homemade crunchy stuff to put on soup, salad, and pasta. SOUP UP YOUR LIFE.
I love your stinkin’ butts,