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IMG_5604If you’ve read More Time at the Table for long –and we’re just about to celebrate our fifth birthday — you’ll know I adore beans and particularly love bean soup.  I feel overwhelmingly rich when there’s a ham bone in the refrigerator just waiting for me to throw it in the pot one morning.  While I’ve made bean soup for many years, it rarely comes out exactly the same as it did the time before and while I’m not always sure why that is, I’m happy for it.  Of course the taste is dependent upon which dried bean you use and there’s the rare occasion I’ve used a few different cans of beans when there was no time for the long indulgent soup pot.  Or it might taste differently because of the seasonings or the type or amount of ham.  In this case, I pulled out the Easter ham bone (originally a 7-pound ham that now had been nearly, but not quite, picked clean for sandwiches) and looked in the pantry for a bean just a bit different the typical white, navy, black, split pea, black-eyed pea (actually a legume), etc.

Last time I was at Williams-Sonoma, they had, as they often do, a basket of marked down food products.  I’m willing to pay their price for several items I can’t get elsewhere and that are worth it.  Great vanilla extract, for instance. California olive oil.  But there are other items I’ll spring for only when they’ve made it to the mark down rack.  This is where I’ll buy really expensive Italian or Spanish olive oil that I wouldn’t pay the original $50.00 for.  I’ll pick up unusual cocoa or coffee at half-price.  And this is where I bought Snow Cap Beans, which are heirlooms, for $5.99 (15 ounces) instead of $11.95.

The food: What makes a food heirloom? It’s the history behind the plant; heirloom varieties come from seeds that have been passed down through a family for several generations, prized for some feature that makes it distinct. For beans, that could mean unique sizes, shapes, colors or textures. In the U.S., heirloom beans come with memorable names like scarlet runner, appaloosa, runner cannellini and flageolet. While they were first cultivated in North America some 2,300 years ago, these vegetables are just beginning to catch on among grocers as consumers increasingly search out distinct features in their food.

 

(above, courtesy time.com–click to read more)

$5.99 is still a whopping price for not even a pound of beans, but I also figure this is a farmer who doesn’t grow too many beans and who has to make a living.  I had never tasted Snow Cap Beans before, either.  I’d never heard of them.

IMG_5586 IMG_5605These beans are big--not as big as limas — but nearly.  They look like over-grown or very luxurious pintos with a bit of the skin removed.  Like a pinto pony.  Because they’re large, they take a bit longer to cook (and I’m at altitude where slow cooker beans can’t be made in one day) and need to be stirred regularly to ensure even cooking.  This bit of information below comes from goodeggs.com, where you can order Snow Caps.

Snow Cap Beans

Known for their jaunty white caps, smooth texture, and surprisingly potato-like flavor. Similar to a pinto, snow caps have a comforting homey taste, texture and rosey golden color with attractive red speckles.

California grown, full-flavored heirloom beans, not hybridized from industrial production.

Grown by the fifth generation northern California farmers of Mohr-Fry Ranches in Lodi.

So there you go, a great big attractive bean awaits your next soup if you haven’t yet tried Snow Caps.  If you find some –or have some other beans in the pantry that shouldn’t languish there over the hot summer (while the conventional wisdom is that beans last forever, they do get old and hard and take longer to cook), try this:

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snow cap bean and ham soup

10 servings

  • 1 pound dried Snow Cap Beans, picked over for stones and debris and well-rinsed (navy or northern beans will work, too)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery and leaves, chopped
  • 4 large carrots, scrubbed, trimmed, and chopped (no need to peel)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Large handful of chopped parsley
  • Kosher Salt and Fresh-Ground pepper
  • Ham bone with some meat left on it
  • 4-5 quarts water
  • 1 quart Chicken Stock
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon dried Bouquet Garni or a mixture of dried thyme and  minced or crumbled dried rosemary
  • 4-6 Shakes hot sauce (I like Tabasco brand)
  • 1 cup Salsa, for garnish — optional

1. In a large pot, place cleaned beans; cover with water plus two inches. *  Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes.  Cover and turn off the heat; let the pot stand for an hour or two.  Drain beans.

2. Add butter, oil, onions, celery, carrots, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt with 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are softening.  Trim most of the meat from the ham bone and chop the meat.  Add the bone along with the chopped ham to the pot with four quarts of water and the chicken stock.  Stir in the drained beans, herbs, the hot sauce, and another teaspoon of salt. Turn flame under pot to high.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer and cook until beans are tender — 2 1/2 – 3 hours at altitude– less at or nearer sea level.  Stir regularly to ensure even cooking.  Add more water if the soup becomes too thick; it should be very loose and brothy.

3. Remove ham bone and any other pieces of bone, fat, or gristle that may have cooked loose. If there’s any usable meat left on the bone, remove, chop, and add to the soup.  Discard ham bone.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.   Serve hot garnished with a spoonful of salsa, if desired.  The person who gets the bay leaf has good luck until the next pot of soup is made.

COOK’S NOTES:

*Alternately, you can let the beans soak all night.  I always forget to do this and sometimes just cook them as they are with no soaking or boiling at all.  They do cook better and supposedly have less gas-producing possibilities if they’re soaked or boiled before cooking.

This soup is a pretty traditional bean soup.  Change it up by adding a chopped fennel bulb or a can of chopped tomatoes.  Some spicy sausage sautéed with the vegetables would be luscious.  A couple of diced small red potatoes thrown in for the last half an hour of cooking would add additional texture.  If you’ve a parsnip or turnip, switch out a carrot or two for them. Like things hotter?  Throw in a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper with the onions and celery.  A cup or two of fresh greens –chopped kale, beet greens, or spinach, for instance — cooked in the soup for only a 3-4 minutes at the end would be beautiful color and nutrition-wise.  Chopped red or yellow pepper as a garnish could provide some fresh crunch.  Be flexible and use what’s in your crisper or on your counter.

If you like thicker bean soups, puree a few cups of this soup (carefully — it’s hot) after it’s finished cooking and return the pureed portion to the pot and stir well.  You may need to readjust the seasonings again.

WINE:  I like a red  Côtes du Rhône with bean soup.

If possible, eat on the front porch!  (below:  our ornamental crab tree just coming into bloom)

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Happy spring!

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Sing a new song,

Alyce