Eilene is at Disneyland and Myr is not feeling well, so it is just Jan and me tonight. Jan wanted something that we could reheat when Eilene gets home late tonight, but also be good for lunches during the week. She decided that she wants ham and beans.
I am always up for trying something new. A few weeks ago, I spotted some beans at Whole Foods that I had never seen before, Corona beans. When these beans are cooked, they plump up to almost an inch across. They should make and interesting and distinctive stew.
I usually start a pot of beans by making a broth with a ham bone. Unfortunately, Safeway has not had a sale recently, so I do not have one. My second choice would be to use a few smoked ham hocks, but in scanning recipes on-line I read about smoked ham shanks. When I got to the store, they did not have any hocks, but they had some very nice smoked ham shanks. These have plenty of cartilage for richness and a lot more meat on them than the ham hocks. This should make for a good start for this dish.
In the past, I have made a simple ham broth. Simmering the meat and bones for a few hours to melt the connective tissue into gelatin and bring the ham flavor into the water. Today, I decided to add some aromatics: onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. After removing the meat and bones, I blended this into a luxuriant ham stock.
In some of the recipes I looked at on-line, I noticed that several added potatoes to their ham and beans. I would guess that this is to thicken the broth with the potato starch. I usually crush a few of the beans to release the starch as a thickener. However, with these big beautiful beans, that would seem almost a crime. In today’s dish, I will add a small amount of potato.
I really like ham and beans, but it never seems like quite a full three course meal. It has the meat and starch, but it always seems a bit short on the green vegetables. It usually has some white vegetable matter (onions); some yellow vegetable (carrot); but the green celery is more of a flavoring than a vitamin packed side dish.
Several of the recipes that I looked at included kale with this type of bean. I have not had much success will kale. Mature kale tends to be stay tough and fibrous, even after being cooked. The last thing I wanted was tender beans and stringy vegetables. At Trader Joes, I spotted a bag of baby kale. I hope that this will give me the vitamin boost I am seeking, without the excessive chewing.
After Dinner Note: These beans are phenomenal: firm and creamy, with good flavor. They are an heirloom beans out of Italy, so they can be hard to find, but if you spot a package, grab it. They make a fantastic dish. Next time, I am thinking of doing a cold bean salad/antipasto, something like this.
Karl’s Corona Beans and Ham
2 cups Corona beans
1+ Tbs. Kosher salt, separate uses
1 Tbs. bacon drippings (butter or canola oil)
½ onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
2 whole stalks celery
½ cup carrot, finely grated
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ham shank, smoked (or ham bone or ham hocks)
1 Tbs. bacon drippings (butter or canola oil)
½ onion, coarsely chopped (about ¾ cup)
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ cup potato, diced
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. pepper, or to taste
1 lb. ham steak
½ lb. baby kale
1. The day before you plan to make this dish, sort and rinse the beans. Put them in a pot, with one tablespoon of salt and 5-6 cups of water.
Tip: This is the overnight soak method. If you did not soak your beans the day before, you can use the quick soak method. Use only one teaspoon of sat in the soaking liquid. Bring the pot to a boil and then remove it from the heat. Cover the pot and let it rest for at least one hour. Do not drain off the soaking liquid.
Note: I have experimented with many ways of cooking beans and I prefer the quick soak method in most cases. First, you do not have to think the day ahead for an overnight soak. And, second, you do not lose the bean color and vitamins when you dump the soaking liquid. For these large white beans, I am more concerned about seasoning the interior of the beans with salt and less with losing their color. In this case, nice tasting beans outweighs the loss of a few nutrients.
2. Also the day before you plan to make this dish, add the bacon fat to a large Dutch oven and sauté the onions with the a pinch of salt, until starting to pick up some color.
Tip: You can make the broth on the same day, if you start early. I prefer to do this the day earlier, because it allows you to easily remove any excess fat—this is of course a relative term. I have to cook a fairly low fat diet, because of Jan’s dietary restrictions.
3. Add the carrots and cook until limp, about 4 more minutes.
4. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic to the hole in the center. Sauté the garlic for one or two minutes and mix them into the rest of the vegetables.
5. Add the ham shank (ham bone or ham hocks), the whole stalks of celery, and 8-9 cups of water.
6. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and simmer for one hour.
7. Remove the bone from the pot and cool slightly. Strip off and large pieces of meat and return the bone to the pot.
Tip: Once the meat is cool enough to handle tear into bite sized pieces and reserve for later.
8. Continue simmering the stock for 2-4 hours.
Tip: You want to give the connective tissue plenty of time to render into gelatin and you want the vegetables to become a mush.
9. Remove the bones and celery from the pot.
10. When the celery is cool enough to handle lay the stalks curved side up and, using a paring knife, scrape along the length of the celery to remove the soft vegetable, leaving the tough strings behind.
Note: There are many cooks that would consider the vegetables in the stock pot to be “used up” and they would discard them. I find that I cannot in good conscious do this. Here I am blending them into a puree as part of a rich stock.
11. Put the celery mush into a standing blender and add the broth and the vegetables from the pot.
Tip: As you are adding the broth, check for any remaining bones or chunks of meat. Do not put these in the blender.
12. Puree the stock and strain through a fine meshed sieve to remove any remaining chunks.
Tip: If you have time, let the stock cool completely in the refrigerator. The fat will float to the top and congeal. You may easily remove any that you consider “excess.”
13. Two hours before you plan to eat, add one tablespoon of 1 Tbs. bacon drippings (butter or canola oil)to a large Dutch oven and sauté the onions with a pinch of salt, until starting to pick up some color.
14. Add the celery and carrots and cook until limp, about 4 more minutes.
15. Pull the variables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic and sugar to the hole in the center. Sauté the garlic for one or two minutes and mix them into the rest of the vegetables.
16. Add the potato, red pepper flakes and pepper to the pot.
17. Drain and rinse the beans. Add them to the pot.
18. Add 6-8 cups of the ham stock.
Tip: There is no set amount of liquid to add at this point. If you like a thick bean and ham add less, but if you like yours more soup-like feel free to add more.
19. Bring the Dutch oven just to a boil, put the lid on, and simmer.
Tip: I generally prefer to cook things like beans in the oven rather than on the stove top. The bottom up heat of the stove has the constant risk of scorching the beans at the bottom of the pot over the long cooking time. The all-around-heat of the oven removes this risk and cooks the beans more evenly. However, this time I am concerned about the large beans being under cooked, so I have added plenty of liquid and chose to cook them on the stove.
20. Stir the beans about every 20 minutes and simmer until beans are almost tender about 1½ hours.
True Confession: I actually baked the beans for an hour and a half in the oven and they were not even close to being done. I transferred them to the stove, added more ham stock, and simmered them for another hour. I think these huge beans needed a higher simmer than I was getting in the oven.
21. Chop the ham steak into large dice and add it, the reserved smoked ham bits and the kale to the pot. Adjust seasoning, if necessary, and continue simmering, covered, for 10-20 minutes more, until the kale is tender.
Tip: Check the thickness of the stew at this point. The potatoes should have broken down and thickened it sufficiently, but if it seems too thin, fish out the potato chunks, mash them against the sides of the pot, and stir them in. If it seems too thick add some more water or any remaining stock.
22. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.