I love peasant food! Meaning a simple dish made with inexpensive, local ingredients that is hearty and nutritious and satisfying. A great bean soup meets this criteria and more. Beans are incredibly good for you, being fat free, rich in fiber and in nutrients that are especially good for your heart. The smoked ham hocks that season the bean soup are good for your soul. Try to buy the ham hocks from your farmers’ market…they are likely to be meatier, fresher, locally raised and smoked with care.
You don’t need to be a gourmet to make bean soup, but made with love and served with some crusty garlic bread and a glass of wine or a cold beer, this peasant food can make a special, casual family dinner. I have a big pot bubbling on the stove right now, richly seasoned with lots of onion, garlic, and smoked ham hocks. Later, I will finish seasoning the soup with a little sea salt, red pepper and crushed fennel seed. If there are leftovers, I will bring them to work for lunch. Here is the simple recipe:
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups dried baby lima beans, rinsed and picked through
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 bay leaves
2 pounds smoked ham hocks
12 cups water
Warm the olive oil in a big, sturdy soup pot over medium heat, and add the finely chopped onions. Cook them gently for about five minutes. Then add the garlic and the bay leaves. Cook until the onions are soft, but not brown. Add the ham hocks, the rinsed beans, and the water. Bring to a boil, and skim any foam that rises to the top. Turn the heat to low, and simmer gently for an hour. Then add salt and pepper to taste, along with a teaspoon or two of crushed fennel seed and a red pepper flakes. Have you ever crushed fennel seed? It smells incredible…floral and spicy at the same time. Good stuff. Simmer the soup for another hour, or until the consistency of the beans is to your liking and the meat from the ham hocks is falling off the bone. Or until you finish an afternoon nap.
If you have some mustard greens, turnip greens or kale, you can tear the leaves up and add that to the soup, too, just when the soup is about done, so the greens cook through, but maintain their bright color. Serve with crusty toasted bread rubbed with a fresh clove of garlic and drizzled with fruity olive oil. You can drizzle a little olive oil on top of the soup, too. Simple, divine peasant food!