Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Comfort food

It's not properly spring, here.  We had more snow the night before last, and i'm still yearning for warm, comforting, sturdy things to eat.  So when i found myself with the remains of a spiral sliced ham lurking in the fridge, i thought immediately of bean and ham soup.

I used to eat the Campbell's version as a kid, and i admit i still occasionally stock a can in the pantry, but i've been trying to eat less-processed stuff, so i thought i'd have a go at making it from scratch.  But nostalgia dictated finding something that would have a similar consistency - only with better ingredients and probably a good deal less salt.

In a vintage cookbook (1968) i'd recently unearthed at a Salvation Army shop, i found this promising offering, a prize winner from the Oklahoma state fair:

Creamy Bean Soup
1 lb. pea beans
2 lb. meaty ham bone
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. minced parsley
1/8 tsp. thyme
1 hot pepper
1 qt. boiling water
3/4 c. browned flour
4 tbsp. butter or oleo
1/2 c. minced onion
1 garlic bud
1 tsp. salt
2-1/2 c. canned tomatoes with juice

Wash and clean the pea beans; soak overnight.  Drain and put in deep kettle with ham bone, bay leaf, parsley, thyme, hot pepper and boiling water.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Brown flour in heavy skillet by stirring constantly over medium flame; set aside.  Melt butter and saute onion and garlic until limp.  Blend in browned flour and salt; stir in tomatoes and juice and blend to a smooth paste.  Add sauce to beans and blend well.  Add 1 cup of water, if needed.  Simmer together 1 hour.  The flavors blend very well if it sets a while before serving.  Yield: 12 servings

Celeste Rule, Oklahoma City, Okla., State Fair of Oklahoma

Of course, i tinkered a bit, because i can't leave well enough alone.  Wouldn't know a "pea bean" if i tripped over one, but i had mixed beans on hand, so that's what i used.  And i wasn't organized enough to soak the beans ahead, so had to use the cheater's quick-soak method.  I viewed the quantities as suggestions, and probably had more beans and more ham to start with, so i used a bit more water; more thyme too, because i always use more thyme.  Added carrots and celery leaves.  Didn't have a hot pepper, so i just liberally sprinkled in some crushed red pepper flakes.  Cut the salt a little bit.  Used two hefty cloves of garlic.  For tomatoes, i used a can of Muir Glen Fire-Roasted crushed tomatoes - maybe a little short on quantity, but nice and juicy, and with the browned flour, i think they helped give it a nice smoky flavor.

The verdict?  Oh, yum!  This stuff is velvety and rich, and will stand up to howling winter winds, cold rain, and several inexplicable inches of "partly cloudy" waiting to be shoveled from the porch.  It will get you through to spring.

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