I've mentioned on this blog before that Sunday is my favorite day of the week to use my slow cooker. I love getting up in the morning, getting a hearty soup or stew started in the slow cooker, and then not having to think about dinner until it's time to toss some biscuits into the oven. I use my slow cooker during the week sometimes too, of course, but something about using it on a weekend day gives me a delicious sense of freedom. So much so that I make it a point to use the slow cooker on Sunday -- hence the subtitle of this post.
Today I'm featuring a hearty and delicious Ham and Navy Bean Soup. It's easy, has a wonderful flavor, is reasonably healthy (I mean, the soup has ham in it, no getting around that), and very economical. It also tastes great left over, so no problem making a BIG batch!
Before I start, though, I have to share a funny tidbit. Many years ago, I bought a great little cookbook (before the internet, when people bought cookbooks) that featured bread and soup recipes. There was a recipe in there for navy bean soup that I made several times, and the other soup recipes in the book were good, too. But what I will never forget is the illustration accompanying the recipe for navy bean soup. It featured a simply-drawn bean-shaped figure wearing a sailor's cap and saluting. So, now, all these years later, I still can't make navy bean soup without thinking of that little enlisted bean saluting me.
My current recipe for ham and navy bean soup is actually a combination of a few different recipes, including one that claims to be one of the soups they serve in the cafeteria of the U.S. Senate. In any case, I found that taking a little from each of the recipes produced a really great soup. So, let's get started.
Armour Cure 81 is a great ham to use for soup. It has a nice smoky flavor, without being too salty. And have you ever noticed that some hams don't really have much ham flavor? This one does. I like to buy the spiral-sliced type so I have a bone to use for a later pot of soup. And, of course, you don't have to buy a ham JUST for this recipe. I usually make the ham for dinner (Easter, anyone?) and then freeze portions of the leftovers to use in soups.
The first step is to par-boil the navy beans. You could soak them overnight, but I've found par-boiling them is much faster and produces perfect result. All that par-boiling means is that you're going to pre-cook the beans a little bit before putting them into the pot. This recipe calls for 1 lb. of dried navy beans to be boiled for about 10 minutes, then drained and rinsed.
After tossing the par-boiled beans in a large slow cooker (mine is 6 qt.), chop up and add in the ham, carrots, onions, and celery. Add one of the big (about 32 oz.) paper containers of chicken broth or chicken stock. Then add in the herbs and spices:
A quick word about those. It might seem odd to put sage in the soup, since most people use it about once a year, in their Thanksgiving stuffing. But, although it's known for going well with poultry, sage adds a perfect note to this soup. So even if you're thinking "what the heck?" go ahead and add it in. Here's what your pot will look like with everything in it, ready to be stirred up:
Cook the soup all day, but at least 9 hours. I usually start the cooking time with an hour or two using the "high" setting, and then I turn it down to "low" until the soup is done. Sometimes if I don't do this, the beans will be a little bit hard, and I've found that a couple of hours on "high" ensures that they'll be done to my liking. One really important note: the soup does not call for salt because of the salty ham and the salt in the chicken broth. However, if you need to add in some salt, do NOT add it in until AFTER the soup is finished cooking, as it will inhibit the beans from getting as soft as they should. And, the same is true for the tomato puree -- you want to add it in at the END only, or the soup won't come out right. Here's what the pot should look like after the cooking time, but before you've added in the tomatoes (which, by the way, just give a mice touch of color and a little additional flavor to the soup):
Add in the tomatoes and let them heat through for just few minutes, preferably while you slice a nice, warm baguette of crusty bread. (Just a note -- biscuits or cornbread go great with this soup, too.) Taste for seasonings, and then dish it up and enjoy!
Ham and Navy Bean Soup
1 lb. dried navy beans
32 oz. container chicken broth or stock
2 cups ham, cut into small cubes
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 stalks of celery, sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. dried crushed thyme
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 can (about 14 oz.) pureed tomatoes (or tomato sauce)
In a large saucepan, bring the navy beans and about 6 cups water to a boil; boil for 10 minutes, then drain and rinse the beans. Turn the beans into a large slow cooker, then add the carrots, celery, onion and ham. Add the chicken broth to cover, then stir in the sage, thyme, red pepper and black pepper. Cook on high for an hour or two, then turn setting to low and continue cooking until beans and vegetables are tender. Add in tomato puree and taste to determine if additional salt and pepper are needed. Allow tomatoes to heat through for a minute or two before serving.