If I had to give up dairy I would eat a lot of slow cooked bean soups.
But this soup doesn’t need cream. It’s rich and silky from slow cooking dried beans. And since we didn’t put cream in the soup it is completely appropriate to top the soup with melted cheese. It’s all about balance.
So hopefully you are totally on board with dried beans. They’re tasty and frugal and creamy… so you’re sold right? There is one more thing you will need and if you’ve never purchased a ham hock now is the time. Your first ham bone can be a little intimidating but march on up to your butcher and ask for one. Ham hocks come from the portion of the pigs leg below the traditional Easter or Christmas ham. Very popular is southern cooking, the meat is smoked like bacon and on a bone. Another bonus: One bone is enough to flavor a huge pot of beans and they are very cheap. I’m likely the only 26-year-old north of the Mason-Dixon line advocating for ham hocks but I feel pretty strongly about them. You should try it.
The ham hock I used came from a local farm and was incredibly meaty which was a bonus. However, any hock will work just don’t be surprised if there is less ham in your soup at the end. I also used a rather unusual vegetable from our CSA, celery root (Celeriac). Substitute celery, turnips or any other root vegetable you have hiding in the bottom of your crisper drawer.
The finishing touch, a toast with crispy, slightly burnt cheesy goodness on top is totally optional. And by totally optional I mean you totally have to do it. And then take a bite of creamy, pork-y goodness and use your toast to mop up every last bit in the bottom of your bowl. Did I just ruin this entire post by saying pork-y?
White Bean and Ham Soup with Parmesan Toasts
2 cups (~1 pound) white beans (I used Great Northern beans)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
2-3 carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped root vegetable of choice (I used celery root/celeriac)
a bunch of thyme (as much as you want)
1 ham hock
8 cups low sodium chicken broth
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
shredded parmesan reggiano
Soak beans overnight or (if you are forgetful like I often am) do a quick soak, described here. Rinse the beans and set aside.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven. Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook 5 minutes until softened. Add the rest of the vegetables and thyme. Stir to combine and cook 5 minutes longer. Add the beans, ham hock and pour chicken broth over top. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook 1.5-2 hours. Taste and salt accordingly, I used 1.5 teaspoons but it will depend on the saltiness of your ham and broth.
Optional: Preheat the broiler on high with a rack approximately 4-6 inches below broiler. Place bread in the oven to lightly toast, approximately 1 minute per side. Pour soup into oven safe bowls, top with sliced bread and sprinkle parmesan reggiano on top. Return to the broil and cook until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, approximately 2 minutes.
Special Equipment Needed:None