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Mixed Bean Soup  printer friendly
By Charlie Burke

Bean soup, a staple at our house, is the perfect winter lunch or light dinner and
during the holidays is a welcome respite from rich meals.

In nearby Belmont, New Hampshire, Everett Weeks continues the long New
England tradition of drying heirloom beans for sale at Week’s Farm throughout
the year. He sells a wide variety, and I usually choose navy, cranberry or white
beans for individual recipes.

Easy, economical and healthy, bean soup, a classic New England dish, is usually
made with a single variety of beans, but we also make soup from a mix of
Everett’s dried beans. There are subtle differences in texture and flavor among
the varieties, and, surprisingly, there are little differences in cooking times.

Most recipes call for soaking dried beans overnight, but for convenience they
can be cooked after being parboiled for a few minutes and drained. We have
found that freshly dried beans from the current year’s crop not only cook quickly
but also have more flavor than beans from the supermarket which may be years
old.

We vary the basic recipe, adding different herbs such as sage or rosemary, and
include locally smoked bacon or  ham hock which, in addition to adding  a mild
smoky flavor, thickens the soup with its gelatin. Onion is always included, and
we may add a few cloves of our garlic, carrot or a cup of our roasted tomato
sauce.

8 - 10 servings:

1 pound dried beans, mixed
1 ham hock or ½ cup coarsely chopped bacon
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh sage or rosemary, chopped or ½ tablespoon dried
8-10 cups water (use the lower volume for a thicker soup)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the beans into a large bowl or pot and add cold water to cover them by 3
inches. Soak them overnight and drain. If the beans have not been soaked
overnight, place them into a large sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a
boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes, remove them from the heat, let stand for
an additional 20 minutes and then drain them.

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil and sauté the onion, garlic, if using, and
bacon until the onion is translucent and most of the fat is rendered from the
bacon. Add the beans, water, herbs and ham hock and bring the water to a boil
over medium – high heat. Turn the heat down to low so that the soup is
simmering and scoop off any froth from the surface. Do not add salt until the
beans are nearly done because it prevents the beans from becoming tender if
added early.

When the beans are starting to soften (35 – 60 minutes) season them with salt and
pepper to taste. Continue cooking until the largest beans are easily mashed with
a fork. If serving immediately, remove the ham hock. Otherwise, leave the ham
hock in the pot, let the soup cool uncovered and then cover and refrigerate. The
flavor of the soup improves overnight, and the soup keeps well for several days
in the refrigerator.

This is a simple soup, but using freshly dried beans and bacon or a ham hock
from a local smokehouse makes a real difference.

Other vegetables such as spinach, kale or Swiss chard can be added near the end
of cooking, and cubed potatoes are sometimes added, providing another
variation. In Italy a couple of cubes or packets of good quality chicken bouillon
are often added to bean preparations near the end of cooking to add depth of
flavor, and I’ve found it works in this soup, as well. Italian bouillon is superior
in quality, and we always bring home plenty when we travel, but Goya and
Knox are good brands.

Make the effort to find locally grown dried beans and to meet the farmer. If he is
anything like Everett Weeks, you will find he provides plenty of local
knowledge and information along with his great locally grown food.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.
 
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Mixed Bean Soup, Photo by Charlie Burke
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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