Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comfort in a Pot of Bean and Ham Soup... and a Love of Garlic

There's few things I find more comforting in the fall and winter than a pot of soup simmering on the stove on a relaxing Saturday, filling the house with its wonderful scent so that everyone can hardly wait for dinner.  I've always loved soups, and in my 20s while living abroad, I made a pot of soup almost every week, which I ate for dinner night after night until it was gone.  It was inexpensive to make, and healthy too, as well as being about the only thing I knew how to cook at the time.

One of my favorite times to make soup is the day after Thanksgiving.  My mom always made Turkey Vegetable Soup and traditional Bean and Ham Soup.  I've never been able to decide which is best, because I love them both so much.  After cooking a rich stock from the bones, all of the Thanksgiving leftovers go into the turkey soup.  And I do mean ALL.  Mashed potatoes.  Green Bean Casserole.  Stuffing and Gravy.  All of those elements make an amazingly flavorful broth.  And the Bean and Ham Soup is so wonderfully salty and rich with chunks of ham, beans and bits of carrots.  Store-bought bean and ham soup doesn't stand a chance!

I'll tell you something, though.  You don't have to wait for Thanksgiving, or even spend all day cooking a fantastic ham dinner before you can make a rich and flavorful Bean and Ham Soup.  A wonderful shortcut to this amazing soup is canned beans and store-bought ham hocks.  I really like using canned beans in soups because I have little patience waiting for dried beans to soak and soften, and even then they never really get as soft as I would like.  So a soup that might normally take a day or two to prepare will only take about an hour and a half with a few simple shortcuts.  The ingredients are also relatively inexpensive - I made a large pot of this soup, about 7-8 servings, for less than $15.

As the ham hocks render, they will create a wonderfully flavorful broth that's very rich.  If your leftover soup looks a little gelatinized after it cools down in the fridge, don't worry!  That's supposed to happen when the connective tissue, which contains collagen, gets converted into gelatin during the cooking process.  That gelatin is what thickens the broth.  Because pork is fatty, be sure to skim the grease off the surface of the broth as you simmer the soup.

And of course, every pot of soup loves a side of crusty bread.  If that bread has garlic on it, that's even better!  I developed a love of garlic while living in China.  Let me tell you, the Chinese LOVE their garlic.  I've watched them eat entire cloves of raw garlic with their meal, which is always on the table in restaurants over there, along with the soy sauce and vinegar.  Raw garlic is a little much for me.  However, roasted garlic that's soft, spreadable and caramelized....  now that's what I'm talking about.  And a glass of wine to wash it down doesn't hurt either.

If you've never roasted garlic, you really need to.  And it's so simple.  Just slice off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle the cloves with olive oil, cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 for one hour...  and you will have an amazing concoction of nutty, caramelized, garlicky goodness that you can spread on toasted bread or mash and mix with softened butter for garlic butter.  And the oil that's left in the baking dish - that garlic oil is good stuff, too.

Now, I understand if you're worried about garlic breath and all that.  But really, that's just something you have to get over.  And if everyone has garlic breath after dinner, then what is there to worry about?  After you've been smashed into an over-crowded bus with 100-plus other people, in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity, and some creepy man decides to take advantage of the situation by standing as close as possible behind you on said bus...  well, let me just say there are worse things out there than a little garlic on your breath.  Oh, and by the way, the creepy guy?  Yeah, he got a few really hard jabs in his ribs with my elbow.

Here's something that should really make you drool.  Cheesy garlic knots made from pizza dough.  These are so easy, you might just cry for joy after you're done and you taste how delicious they are.  As well as addictive.  Good luck trying not to eat all of them in one sitting.

You can use your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe for this or a store-bought refrigerated dough.  I mixed up a simple dough using an instant yeast that requires hardly any resting time.  After baking, these get all golden and puffy, and are incredibly fun to eat as you pull all the twisted dough apart revealing the cheese, garlic and herbs inside.

You know you want to make these.  And the bean and ham soup.  It's the ultimate comfort food for fall.

Kelly Ripa and Electrolux are searching for America's favorite comfort food!

Check out America's comfort food favorites and select your own by clicking here. When you do, Electrolux will donate $1 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund as part of our $1 million dollar commitment to the cause.1 Plus, you'll be entered for a chance to win an Electrolux Induction Cooktop.2

Bean and Ham Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled or scrubbed, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 pound ham steak, cut into bite-sized chunks, with the fat trimmed off and discarded
  • 1 1/2 pounds ham or pork hocks
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) low-sodium white beans, such as Great Northern beans, un-drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups low-sodium, fat free chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers.  Add the onion, celery, carrots and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and simmer, uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until thick and flavorful.  Skim the fat off the surface as the soup simmers.  You can adjust the seasoning as needed, but you should not need any additional salt as the ham is already very salty.

Since the ham hocks will not fully render in such a short time, you can cool these and place them in a freezer bag to use again later.

Yields 8 servings.

Roasted Garlic
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.  Slice the top third of the head of garlic off to reveal the cloves.  Set upright in a glass baking dish.  Slowly drizzle the olive oil onto the cloves, allowing it to run down between all the cloves.  Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for about one hour, until the garlic is very soft, spreadable and caramelized.  Serve with toasted bread.

If you have any leftover garlic, mash it with a fork with a few tablespoons of softened butter, and store in the refrigerator for future use.

Don't throw out the extra oil in the baking dish!  Use that garlic oil to saute vegetables, or to drizzle on toasted bread.

Cheesy Garlic Knots
  • 1 prepared pizza dough, homemade or store-bought/refrigerated
  • 2 tablespoons roasted garlic butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Italian seasoning, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  On a floured surface, roll out the pizza dough to a rectangular shape measuring approximately 10x16 inches.  Brush the melted garlic butter over the dough with a pastry brush.  (If you don't have any garlic butter, just use unsalted butter or olive oil, and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of garlic powder or minced garlic.)

Sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, pepper, salt, and cheddar cheese, and press down gently to press the seasoning and cheese into the dough.  Fold the dough in half, from one long end to the other so that the herbs and cheese are sandwiched inside two layers of dough.  Using a pizza roller, cut the dough into 9 equal strips.  Pick up a strip, holding it at each end, and twist until it twists up into itself.  Form it into a loose "knot" and place on a greased baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Brush each knot with the olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning.

Bake for 14-15 minutes until puffy and golden.

Yields 9 large knots.


  1. Everything looks so good, can't wait to try making the knots with my girls!

  2. Those rolls look delicious. I love the pairing with the soup!

  3. Wow these look absolutely delicious, what a great recipe!

  4. You never cease to amazing me with your incredible recipes. The soup looks delicious and the bread and garlic just tip it right over the top! Buzzed, buzzed, BUZZED!

  5. What a fantastic recipe for fall, I love the soup and the knots. They look amazing

  6. Lovely soup! It has so many of my favorite ingredients. I always love any kind of soup with sweet potatoes or beans....with both of them together like that, it sounds fantastic.

  7. The Soup Fairie left this soup at our house and it was just the best ham and bean soup I have ever enjoyed! What a great way to start this cold, snowy season.
    Thanks, Sweetie!

  8. Oh my Lord! Those garlic knots are killing me, I NEED TO MAKE THEM! What's better than soft, warm, garlicky, cheesy bread?? The soup looks wonderful as well, the perfect thing to eat those garlic knots with! Thank you for sharing this both of these awesome recipes, I'm hoping to make those garlic knots sometimes soon! Book-marked for sure!

  9. I am a serious garlic fanatic so this is right up my alley. I love cooking thick, comforting soups on the weekend too so this one will go down a treat!


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