Wow, I have been radio silent since mid-December? Really? I have no excuse for myself, unless you buy the one about holidays putting me in some type of emotional funk. I drove four hours straight, and 3 of them were in silence, anyone who knows me is painfully aware of my penchant for singing in the car. Like I said, funk, funk, funk. But, it's over now, until about mid-February, when I try to carve my heart out with a spork. I know, I am supposed to love Christmas, but, my love is turning to complete ambivalence, except for the food part. Smelling the 15 pounds of smoked ham from the greatest meat market in my home town and most of the surrounding area makes me happy. Okay, fair enough - pork and processed pork products of all manner make me happy. But ham, ham is the most revered. It's sliced hot with a nice horseradish mustard sauce, then sliced cold for a sandwich, it's diced into a cheesy fritatta with some fresh herbs, it's ground for ham loaf or spread and then, the entire family leg wrestles over the bone with it's scraps of clinging meat. If you're lucky, you get the skin too (reserve that smoked skin for soup, tossing it is a cardinal sin, seriously). Or, if you are like me and have to drive all over Texas and back to visit family and eat all of their ham, you get no bone. I got no bone. How sad for me. I didn't save the skin, and I think Ms. Boot Camp put it in the trash can. Healthy people, sheesh. Oh, fear not, I know how to work around this bone issue. There, in my grocer's meat case, I can always find me some smoked ham hocks, skin-on, bone-in, with a bit of meat to taunt you with, ham hocks.
With the weather remaining cool to colder, but, not freezing and damp enough to make your bones hurt - it's soup time. One of my very favorites, which happens to be cheap as sin to boot, is Navy Bean. What goes best with the magical fruit? Magical meats...pork. Ham to be specific. Hocks if you gotta, but smoked and ham - accept no substitute. Here's how to pull it together, very simple and ridiculously delicious.
Thyme for Navy Bean Soup
2-3 smoked ham hocks, or one coveted ham bone
1 medium onion, roughly diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced (or, I just rough chop the center of the bunch, leaves and all, leaving the root base for
the compost bin)
1-16 oz bag of navy beans, or small white beans, picked through and well rinsed
2-3 quarts of water
1 cube of Knorr Ham Bouillon or, you can substitute chicken broth/stock if you don't have the ham stock cube or crystals.
1 tsp dried thyme, or strip the leaves from three stems (about 4-6" stems) of fresh thyme
1 tsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves fresh)
1 serrano pepper, sliced into rings
Salt, white pepper and black pepper to taste.
1 Tbsp. olive oil, if needed
In a dutch oven, drizzle a very small amount of olive oil and heat to medium. Add ham hocks and "brown", turning every 5 minutes. Add diced onion, celery and bell pepper and saute down until softened. Pour water over meat and veggies, add rinsed beans and bouillon and bring to a boil. Add seasonings (including the serrano and garlic) and stir well. Reduce heat and continue at a nice slow bubble for about 2-3 hours. Remove ham hocks to cool, turn soup off to cool. Adjust seasoning to taste. Skin the ham hocks and shred the meat, adding the meat back to the soup. Put the cooled soup in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat the cold soup, and simmer for an additional hour or two (I like to do this,as the released starches thicken the soup and the flavors have time to marry and honeymoon, it's just more flavorful). Test again for salt/pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread or whole grain crackers.
If you have the real thing, the ham bone...skip the browning part and once the veggies are soft and the liquid added, toss in the ham bone. If you have the skin, render the fat from the skin and crisp it up in place of "browning" the ham hocks. If you have carrots, by all means, scrape and dice two medium ones and submit to the pot with the rest of the veggies. I have been out of the habit of keeping them. Well, I have not been cooking very much, either, which would explain the lack of beta carotene in the cold box.
This soup makes a fantastic lunch to take to work. I have been taking sandwich makings and having a bit of soup with a half or "foldover" sandwich for lunch. Last week, I bought lunch every day - even the crappy deli sandwich in the basement of our building, without any chips or drink is over five bucks. I am ashamed of myself, and am now determined to pack a sack lunch most days.