In addition to the vegetable CSA that I joined last summer, we’ve been doing a meat CSA. For the most part, I love it: we get pasture-raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb (with an option to purchase an Heirloom Turkey at Thanksgiving) on a monthly basis. They charge a flat rate per pound, and you choose the total number of pounds that you want to receive each month.
I won’t get into all the reasons that we decided to go the CSA route for meat – that’s an entire post (or two) in its own right – but I will say that it’s definitely exacerbated my hoarding tendencies. If I’m gonna pay eight bucks a pound for meat, I’m gonna be darned sure that I get as much out of that meat as possible. Every scrap of fat and bone, therefore, gets saved or re-used in some way. It makes for an odd assortment of baggies in the freezer, but that's another story....
…which brings me to Dec 29th, 2009, on which I contemplated a menu for New Year’s Eve. I decided to go with a soup-based meal, since our guests would be arriving at different times and I didn’t want to be locked into the kitchen trying to Make Dinner Happen. I pulled out my favorite soup cookbook – Soups and Stews, by Bernard Clayton Jr.- and began to peruse recipes. The Seven Bean Soup caught my eye because (1) it could be made a day ahead, (2) I had a lot of dried beans on hand and (3) several teenagers were coming to the party and Bernard described the soup as “a large recipe that will feed a boy Scout patrol, a young football team or a crew freshly returned from a sail.”
(Here I will digress about dried beans: I love them for the vegetable garden, because they are soooo easy to grow. Plant them. Water them. Wait for the vines to die off in the fall, then harvest them. I choose which varieties to grow based mainly on what will look pretty in glass jars on the pantry shelf. Oh, all right, I do read the descriptions of taste, too, in the catalogs, but mostly it’s all about the pretty.)
In the pantry, I had some Hidatsa Shield Figure and Good Mother Stallard beans that I grew myself, some Jacob’s Cattle beans from the veggie CSA, and a few other organic varieties that I bought at Whole Foods (black beans, cannellini, and chick peas). I also had a lamb bone in the freezer, leftover from a small leg roast, that I thought would work okay in the broth-making step for this recipe – Bernard says to use veal bones, but I didn’t have any, and there’s another recipe for a lamb and bean stew that made me think the lamb bone just might work here. Some people don’t like the flavor of lamb, but I figured that all the smokiness from the ham hocks and sausage would hide any “game-y” character.
If you don’t have the exact types of beans that are called for in the recipe, you can substitute others, or use different proportions of the cited beans, though the soup does look pretty with all the different shapes and colors. As for my heirlooms, I found that the Hidatsas and the Jacob’s Cattle truly are very tasty beans. The next time I make this I will probably add a little more sausage so that it has a greater presence in the bowl.
Since you make the broth from scratch, it takes a while to complete this recipe. You can do it in stages, however, over the course of a weekend: start soaking the beans and make the ham broth on Friday night, cook the beans on Saturday, and put it all together on Sunday. This soup was really delicious…and it did indeed make enough to feed a crew freshly returned from a sail.
Seven Bean Soup
Adapted from Soups and Stews, by Bernard Clayton Jr.
½ cup of each dried beans: navy beans, pinto beans, cranberry beans, kidney beans, black-eyed beans, garbanzos (chick peas), lima beans
2 smoked ham hocks
1 pound soup bones, preferable veal [or whatever you have in the freezer from your meat CSA]
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, chopped finely
4 stalks celery, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup vermouth or dry white wine, optional
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, including the liquid
1 pound of garlic sausage (Portuguese liguica, Italian sausage, Polish kielbasa or other)
Salt, if desired or necessary [it wasn’t]
Black pepper to taste
Combine the beans in a large bowl and rinse them in cold water, taking care to remove any stones or grit. Add enough water to the bowl to cover the beans by 2” and let them soak overnight.
The next day, place the ham hocks and soup bone(s) with enough water to cover them by 2” – about 10 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer over low heat for 2-1/2 hours. Skim off any brown film as it collects on the surface.
While the broth is simmering, drain the beans. Transfer them to another saucepan and add water to cover by 2-3” – about 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour or until the beans are cooked al dente – definitely not mushy. Drain the beans, reserving some of the cooking liquid in the event it is needed to thin the soup later.
Cut the sausage on the diagonal into ¼”-thick slices. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and add the sausage slices. Cook until the fat is released and the sausage is browned, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a bowl lined with paper towels and discard any excess fat in the pan.
Add the butter to the soup pot and let the foam subside, then add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are translucent, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the vermouth, if using, and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is mostly gone. [At this point, you can turn off the heat and wait for the ham hocks to finish simmering].
When the ham hocks are cooked, turn off the heat and remove the hocks from the pot. Let them cool a bit and then cut the meat off of them, removing the layers of fat. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup pot containing the cooked vegetables. Discard the fat and bones (if you are preparing the broth a day ahead, you can chill it overnight and remove the fat from the surface the next day. Otherwise use a gravy separator to easily de-fat the ham broth).
Pour the ham broth into the soup pot that contains the cooked veggies. Add the tomatoes and the drained, cooked beans. Add the sausage slices, bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Salt cautiously, if at all, because the ham will have made its contribution. Add black pepper to taste. Serve with a green salad, a nice country bread, and plenty of butter.