I call this time of year the sick season. Colds,flu,allergies and hay fever abounds. At some point someone around me will be sniffling,sneezing or coughing and wheezing. It’s a virtual video game as I dip and dodge germs freed from the mouths of sick people. That can prove impossible if the sick person actually lives with you. I don’t like being sick. Being sick hampers you and stops you from getting done what needs to be done. Being sick forces you to slow down and take a few minutes to rest your body. Which is not a bad thing, unless you have things that need to be done sick or not.
As I write this there is a sick person in my home. He needs to get better and soon. People who know me also know that these past couple of months I have been miserable with allergies; swollen, itchy,watery eyes and just an overall feeling of bleh. I am just now starting to look and feel better. I do not need some sick person getting me sick. Though I cannot force medication down this sick persons throat I can make him a nice pot of good for you soup.
Soup is the answer to being sick and especially in colder months. I don’t know whether it is scientific or just all in our heads but no one can argue that, after having a hot bowl of soup when you are sick, you don’t feel a little better. My sick person needed soup and since I had to make it I figured I would make one that would benefit me as well.
My favorite type of soup to eat is a beans and greens soup. Full of folic acid and vitamins K and A (from the greens) and lots of protein and fiber(the beans) I always feel like I’m doing something good for myself when I eat it. For years I’d used a basic recipe for this soup; drain a can of cooked white beans, add a can of broth,season with garlic and olive oil,add chopped escarole. I was very happy with it until I tasted a version from a local pizzeria. Their version was rich and complex and smokey. After having that version I knew right away what made the soup different(and better) than my own.It was that smokey flavor that came from something I’d been eating since childhood; ham hock.
Say hello to my little friend. It may not photograph very well but it tastes darn good. This is a ham hock. I don’t need to bore you with what part of a pig it comes from,all you need to know is that it is salty and unctuous and fatty and good. It’s perfectly at home in a beans and greens soup or any soup because it adds a warm,smokey flavor to the broth and that’s what sets it apart from soup made without one. You don’t need to do anything to this ham hock, just drop it into a pot of water for a few hours and let it do its work. With a spicy chile d’arbo added to the broth it’s the perfect soup for making you feel better.
Thankfully, I don’t need a sick person as a reason for making this soup. The ingredient list is short and simple so be sure and make a large batch and freeze the extras for when you are feeling sick or just want soup.
Recipe: hearty beans and greens soup
3 smoked ham hocks
2 pounds dry cannellini beans(or other dry white bean),picked through and rinsed
1 medium onion,peeled and cut in half
1 small carrot, cleaned but unpeeled
1 medium celery stalk
10 whole peppercorns
1 dried chile d’arbol
1 head of garlic, cut in half and cloves left intact
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind (optional- I never throw away the rinds from my aprmesan cheese. I wrap and keep in the freezer for flavoring soups and stews)
1 bunch of escarole, rinsed and coarsely chopped
parmesan cheese, grated or crumbled
Put the ham hocks in a large pot and cover with cold water. On medium heat bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. After five minutes turn the heat to low, so the water is at a slow but steady simmer. Simmer the hocks like this for an hour.
After an hour add the dry rinsed beans, the onion,carrot,celery,peppercorns,bay leaf,chile d’arbol and garlic. After one hour of cooking remove the whole vegetables,the chile and the bay leaf. Pick out as many peppercorns as you can.
Continue to cook the beans until they are tender. This may take a half hour or more depending. So check by removing a few beans and tasting or squeezing to see if they are soft. If the beans are still firm continue to cook until softened.
After the beans have cooked fully, add the chopped escarole and cook the soup about 5 minutes more until the escarole is wilted.
Serve ladled into bowls with warm crusty bread. Chop the meat from the ham hock and serve in the soup or alongside . Add the crumbled parmesan cheese and a few dashes of hot sauce if you like.