As I mentioned last week, our last CSA share of the season from the Wynn Family Farm was a generous supply of fresh pork. From approachable and identifiable cuts (hello, pork roast) to unusual and confusing, um, “parts” (come again, pork neck?), our freezer was piled high with meticulously wrapped butcher’s paper packages. Now, what to do with it all?
One of the packages was labeled “Ham Hock”, which is basically the no man’s land between a pig’s foot and its leg – an area that is primarily made up of skin, tendons and bone, making it more of a flavor enhancer rather than a meal unto itself. (Well, I guess it really depends on just how hungry you are.) Ham hocks are often smoked, and sold for super cheap at the grocery store. They’re thrown into soups and stews – and pots of beans, as in my case – to add a wonderfully smoky, piggy flavor.
Hubs seemed to really zero in on the ham hock package, and was determined to use it in a pot of beans. His only hurdle: getting me to make a pot of beans. Week after week, Hubs would eagerly ask, “So, are we having beans this week?”, to which I would regretfully reply, “Oooh, riiight…. Beeeaaannns… Sorry, not this week!” For whatever reason, I had a mental block about his persistent bean request. He even swore to me that if I would agree to make a pot of beans, he would smoke the ham hock himself. Why he was so eager for beans – and why I had a subconscious aversion to them – is beyond me.
Inspired by the lingering chill in the air that’s announcing fall’s arrival – and by the ache in my face due to a nasty sinus infection – I set out to make something warm and comforting last weekend. I wanted to keep things simple and do something relatively hands-off. Flipping through my cookbooks, I came across Jamie Oliver’s Humble Home-Cooked Beans recipe. (I know! Two Jamie recipes, two weeks in a row. So sue me.) The recipe was right up my alley: simple, warm and CHEAP. Not to mention it would finally appease Hubs’ weeks-old wishes.
A pound of dried beans costs less than $2.00; add in the other ingredients, and you’re looking at a meal for six costing less than $10.00, not to mention one that’s hardy, delicious and nutritious. Because the recipe calls for dried beans, only the tiniest bit of planning ahead is involved; you can’t just throw dried beans into a pot and expect them to cook; you have to soak the beans in water for a good 12 hours beforehand. But big deal! Beans. Bowl. Water. Done.
True to his words, Hubs turned the grill on low, made a foil pack of wood chips, and smoked the ham hock to deep, pinkish perfection before I added it to the pot. The flavorings in Jamie’s recipe are an even mix of traditional and contemporary, with things like rosemary, garlic, bay and thyme – and I swayed them even more towards the traditional side by adding the smoked ham hock. Once the beans and all the flavorings came to a simmer, I put the lid on and forgot about it for the next two hours.
You can watch Jamie make the recipe here. Like he says, think of this as the “mother recipe.” A basic pot of beans can go in an infinite number of directions; serve them over rice for an interesting take on red beans and rice, add your favorite sausage and a hunk of delicate cornbread, or add lots of cheese and crushed tortilla chips on top. The pot will last two people at least three days, and they only get tastier as time goes on – just add a little water to the pot when you’re reheating them. Now, how does that song go? “Beans, beans, America’s fruit. The more you eat the more you…” Enjoy!
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Pot of Beans
1 lb. dried cranberry beans,
soaked in cold water for 12 hours
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
3 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
3 bay leaves
1 stick of celery, whole
1 smoked ham hock
1 small potato, peeled
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
favorite crusty bread to serve alongside
Once the beans have soaked, drain them and rinse them off. In a large soup pot, place the drained beans, thyme, rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, celery, ham hock and potato. Cover the beans with water, enough to cover the them by an inch or so. Turn the heat on medium low, and slowly bring the beans to a boil. Once the pot is simmering, lower the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer the beans for about two hours, or until they’re soft and creamy. Check the pot every so often to skim the foam that accumulates on top of the water.
Once the beans are cooked, drain them, reserving half of the cooking water, and place the beans and reserved water back in the pot. Discard the herbs, celery, ham hock and bay, and keep the garlic and potato. Unpeel the garlic and using a fork, mash the garlic and potato together until well blended, and stir the mixture back into the beans. Season the beans well with salt and pepper, and add a few liberal tablespoons of olive oil. Serve the beans with your favorite crusty bread alongside.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on our Flickr page.
Laura Hobbs is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her author page or visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.