Landscape designers speak often about the need for a garden to have “good bones.” The bones of a gardening space are what the eye sees when all of the color, bloom, and even foliage are stripped away – basically what you see in the winter. It is the manmade features like walls and walks and the outline of the plant trunks and stems that give structure and shape to the space, and if the bones are poorly designed no amount of pricey plants or careful color combinations will make the garden truly beautiful.
Good bones are terribly important in cooking, too, and this week’s soup is an example of that principle. Did you have a ham for Easter? Many people, including my mom, prefer boneless hams for their ease of serving. I can certainly enjoy a perfectly oval slice of boneless ham, but years ago I became a bone-in kind of gal, culinarily speaking, and a bone-in ham is a joint of meat that keeps giving far beyond the day it emerged from the oven to delight the holiday diners.
Whether you turn your ham leftovers into fried rice or creamed ham and vegetables on toast or baked macaroni and cheese with ham or fried ham with gravy and biscuits, toward the end of the week you may find yourself looking , as I did, at a big ham bone with a little bit of meat clinging to it. If that is your situation, may I recommend you to strip every bit of meal possibility out of your ham by finishing with a pot of ham and bean soup? It’s frugal, it’s simple, and most of all it is delicious.
Ham and Bean Soup
1 ham bone
1 c. water
stray ham leftovers, if you have any
1 T. butter or vegetable oil
1 large onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, medium dice, optional
¼ c. chopped fresh parsley, optional
4 cans (14 oz.) navy beans, undrained (or about 7 cups of freshly cooked beans w/ cooking liquid)
salt and pepper to taste
The night before you plan to serve the soup:
This is a slow cooker method, although you can easily make it on top of the stove. Pick every little piece of ham your fingers can find from the bone, put the ham bits into a covered bowl, and refrigerate for later. Put the stripped ham bone and the cup of water into the slow cooker and cook on low overnight.
Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the one tablespoon fat and the onion and celery. Saute slowly until the vegetables are tender. Scrape into a bowl, add the chopped parsley to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
In the morning:
Remove the ham bone from the slow cooker and discard. Fish out anything that fell off the bone that you don’t want in your finished soup, but you shouldn’t need to strain the broth.
Stir in the veggies you sautéed the night before and the ham bits. Stir in the beans. Cover with a healthy grind of black pepper and stir that in. Cover the slow cooker and cook the soup on low all day while you go about your business. Thin the soup with a little hot water if it is too thick, although it should be fairly thick. Taste before serving to see if it requires any salt, but it will probably be just right. Serve with cornbread, or follow dear Marion Cunningham’s advice and make her old-fashioned gingerbread to serve with this soup – an odd but delicious pairing.