It starts with the beans. Navy beans, to be exact. You can substitute great northern beans, but the Senate kitchen uses navy beans. More often than not, we use canned beans at Blue Kitchen. They’re quick and convenient and, for most recipes, work just fine. This recipe requires dried beans. The long cooking time they demand lets the ham hock’s smoky flavor permeate everything. Dried beans also generally require soaking to soften them up before cooking. You can soak the beans overnight, the time honored approach that, unfortunately for me, requires planning ahead. I used a quick soaking method I’ll describe in the Kitchen Notes that had the beans ready to cook in little more than an hour.
Even though the cooking time is long – 2-1/2 to 3 hours, give or take – it’s something that can go on mostly unattended. On a recent Saturday, I started soaking the beans in the afternoon. By early evening, we were sitting down to a hearty supper.
Senate Bean Soup
1 pound dried navy beans, soaked (see Kitchen Notes)
1 smoked ham hock, about 3/4 pound (see Kitchen Notes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
freshly ground black pepper
Combine beans, ham hock, garlic, 8 cups of water and bay leaves in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 1-1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add onion, carrots and celery and toss to coat with butter, until just softening, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. (A note on chopping and dicing these vegetables: Navy beans are small. Cut the vegetables to match that scale – no big carrot coins or chunks of celery.)