As a kid I hated ham and bean soup. Hated it! My brother loved it, and would request it for his birthday dinner. Ahem. He said he loved it. I really believe he requested it because he knew he could tolerate it, and that I would hate it.
Once we became adults, and no longer had to eat what was put in front of us, I didn’t touch ham and bean soup again until I was 30. My brother had requested it for his birthday dinner (ok, maybe there was something to that, after all), and I decided to try it again, knowing palates can change. Same bean soup I grew up hating as a child. Wow. Two bowls later, I sat dazed and bemused, wondering if Mom had any plastic containers so I could take leftovers.
I’ve since made my own and made some changes to my mom’s original recipe. When she was making it for us when we were children, Mom had to be as economical as possible. She used water and the bone from the Christmas ham, and I now use chicken stock and a picnic ham bought just for this soup. An extravagance, yes, but I only make this soup once or twice a year so I think it’s well worth it. I’ve also added sage because I love the woodsy flavor it adds. I love the softness of Great Northern beans instead of Cannellini beans for this recipe, but the choice is up to you.
Also, a note about draining and rinsing your canned beans before use. I generally do not drain them when I’m using them in a soup, because I like the extra flavor and volume I get from the juices. I know some people have an aversion to using the juice, so if you will be draining and rinsing your beans, you may need some extra chicken stock or water to make up for the lost volume. You should have about 6 quarts of soup when all is said and done.
Ham and White Bean Soup with Sage and Garlic
1 small picnic ham with bone, meat cubed and fat trimmed and reserved
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
small handful fresh sage leaves, minced
32 oz carton chicken stock
6 (15 oz) cans Great Northern or Cannellini beans, with juice
several whole unblemished and fried sage leaves for garnish, if desired*
In a large (over 6-quart) stockpot, render the fat from the reserved trimmings over low heat until you have about two Tablespoons of liquid fat. With a slotted spoon, remove the solids from the pot and discard.
Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the garlic and sage, and saute until the garlic is brown, but not burnt, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock slowly, scraping the fond (yummy brown bits) from the bottom of the pot.
Add three cans of beans with their juice, and just the juice from the remaining three cans. Blend with an immersion blender until the beans are completely pureed. You can do this in a regular blender as well, working in batches. If you use a regular blender, add the puree back to the stockpot before continuing. At this point, assess whether you’d like more “juice”, or if you’d rather have lots of beans. If you want more puree, then either blend one of the final three cans in your regular blender, or add to the stockpot and puree with your immersion blender. If you want more beans, add the final three cans to the stockpot.
Add the cubed ham and the ham bone. Lower the heat to medium and heat the beans and ham through, stirring occasionally. Ladle into large soup bowls, and garnish with fried sage leaves, if desired.
*If you will be garnishing with sage leaves, fry them in your rendered fat until crisp, before adding the garlic and minced sage. Carefully remove them with tongs, and drain on a paper towel.
If you’re worried about the look of the soup and want to remove the ham bone, do. I leave it in until the soup is gone, because of all the flavor it adds and continues to add.
You will notice I did not use any salt in this soup. Once it has had a chance to simmer for a while, taste and then determine whether salt is needed. I find that the saltiness of the ham and of the beans is plenty.