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White Bean Soup with Smoked Ham

White Bean Soup with Smoked Ham
Pantry staples such as beans and smoked meats are traditionally featured in the soups and stews of cold-weather months. In this recipe, a trio of hearty autumn herbs flavors the beans as they cook. Corn bread makes a good accompaniment.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried small white, white kidney or cannellini beans
  • 6 fresh parsley sprigs
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. bacon, finely diced
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 smoked ham hocks, 1 lb. total
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Pick over the beans and discard any damaged beans and stones. Rinse the beans, place in a bowl and add water to cover generously. Let stand for about 3 hours. Drain the beans and place in a saucepan with the parsley and thyme sprigs, bay leaves and water to cover by about 2 inches. Place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until nearly tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain well and discard the parsley, thyme and bay leaves.

While the beans are cooking, in a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the bacon and onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the ham hocks, tomatoes and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the ham just begins to fall from the bone, about 1 hour. Add the beans and continue to simmer until the ham falls from the bones and the beans are very tender, about 1 hour more.

Remove the ham hocks from the soup and set aside until cool enough to handle. Discard the skin and bones and cut the meat into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the ham and chopped mint to the soup, stir well and season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, garnish with mint sprigs, if using, and serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Autumn, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).