Develop a taste for simple foods. This is possibly the best financial advice I've ever been given. But, it seems like in America the idea of cheap food is dreadful. Ramen noodles and casseroles with Campbell's mushroom soup immediately come to mind, so does Taco Bell. The French, however, have revered, old-fashioned peasant food. Simple, hearty, and delicious because of honest ingredients and skillful preparation. While I'm not a connoisseur of French food by any means, I have deep respect for this type of cooking. I think a lot of times we get caught up with the idea that French food is foofy and fancy but that's not true. Peasant food is powerful because it is down-to-earth, because of its every day ordinariness. Where is the American equivalent of this?
As I'm still thinking through this problem, I think we have momentarily found some very wonderful peasant food indeed in the form of Ham and Bean soup. My mom used to make Ham and Bean soup with the leftover Easter ham. My father loves Ham and Bean soup but wasn't allowed to eat it very often because of the intense flatulence it caused! (Soaking the beans overnight and adding vinegar to the cooked beans helps with this, or you can use Bean-O).
As I fumbled to unlock the door when I came home from school this evening, I could smell it, the deep earthy smell of White Northern Beans and the subtle smokiness of ham. Kent had made the most humble, unpretentious, and delicious soup I've had in a long time. It was creamy without dairy, with just a wisp of salt and smoke from the ham. We ate it with huge slices of rye bread, lightly toasted and slathered with butter. Today was one of those blistery, blustery cold spring days, still perfect for a large bowl of soup. But perhaps also, this meal's perfection was more than the food, perhaps I was enamored with the idea of a dinner prepared for me by someone I love. I'm telling you, there's really something to this food/love connection.
So here's Kent's take on Ham and Bean soup:
Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1990) "Black Bean Soup Recipe."
Ham and Bean Soup
1 lb. Great Northern Beans
1 t. celery seed
1 onion, slices
1 ham bone
1 1/2 cups cooked ham chunks
1 1/2 t. dry mustard
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
The night before soak beans in water.
Put beans, soaking liquid, and enough cold water to yield 2 quarts in a large pot. Add celery seed, onion, and ham bone. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 3-4 hours or until the beans are soft, adding more water to replace any that evaporates. Remove the ham bone. Puree in a food processor or with immersion blender. Add the cooked ham and reheat, season with mustards, vinegar, salt and pepper.
Sprinkle grated cheese (Parmesean) on top if desired and serve with rye bread.
Serves 10-ish. We still have a big pot in the fridge. I might revamp it with some canned tomatoes tomorrow or freeze some as well.