Today’s post comes to you from Danny, my soup hero.
There’s something incredibly attractive about a guy who can and does cook for you, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking so. Danny reintroduced me to duck when he made us a dinner of ducketta, which was succulent and more delicious than I imagined duck meat could be. We got to know each other better over a night of rolling pizza dough together. There was a rack of lamb crusted with crushed pistachios and served next to a minty yogurt sauce that I later wanted with every meal. He made a grilled shrimp orzo salad that sustained us through a brutal summer. He’s taken me to lovely dinners out in Tampa, Portland, Iowa, and San Francisco.
And then, there were the soups. Though it may seem unlikely, the soups became my favorites. As he says, they’re modest. Nothing too fancy. Soup is not something made to impress, it is simply a homemade meal to feed, comfort, and nourish you, and to let you know that you are loved.
Early on, there was a shrimp bisque. He deftly peeled the shrimp and used the skins to make his own stock for a rich soup. We ate this when our first dining room was still bare and we only had patio chairs to sit on. And whenever we have that soup again, it takes me back to those sweet early days of living together.
We celebrated two years together this November, and this is the latest soup. A stew, really. We had ratatouille for dinner on Sunday night as this white bean and ham stew simmered until nearly midnight. He stayed up stirring and tasting as it bubbled away, and I drank the last of my wine and fell asleep on the couch after a long day. The house was warm and cozy from the heat of the stove, and so was I.
The next day, when he was gone and I worked from home, I heated up the stew. Everything was tender, and the bits of smoked ham permeated the broth, adding flavor to the creamy potatoes and beans. The day was unexpectedly gloomy and grey, but I was warm.
french white bean and ham stew
We only had a little more than two pounds of ham hock for this soup, but it was still delicious. This is a stew, and there’s definitely room for improvisation. As for the wine, Food & Wine suggests serving this stew with a juicy Beaujolais, but we also liked it with a Côtes-du-Rhône red.
4 meaty smoked ham hocks (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1/2 pound dried cannellini or borlotti beans (1 1/4 cups), picked over and rinsed
3 quarts water
2 medium red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large celery rib, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large parsnip, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound Savoy cabbage, cut into 2-inch chunks
eight 1/4-inch-thick slices of good bread
2 cups or so of shredded Gruyère, Swiss Emmentaler or French Comté cheese
Fill a Dutch oven with the smoked ham hocks, beans, and water before bringing it to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Add the potatoes, leek, celery, carrot, parsnip, cabbage, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.
Fish out the ham hocks and transfer them to a plate. Simmer the stew, uncovered this time, over moderate heat until it thickens and the beans and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the skin and the bones from the ham hocks, and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Stir the meat back into the stew as it simmers. Season the stew with pepper.
Turn on the broiler. Ladle the stew into 8 heatproof bowls and place the bowls on a large baking sheet. Cover each bowl with a slice of toast and some cheese. Broil the bowls of stew about 4 inches from the heat until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbling, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately. Store any leftover soup in the fridge for up to 3 days, and add a little stock or water if necessary to thin it out when reheating and before topping with bread and cheese. After it’s been in the fridge, the fat will rise to the top and the stew will seem too thick, but it will be fine once reheated.
Serves 8. Recipe from Food & Wine.