Monday, February 8, 2010

Navy Beans and Ham

Here is a recipe that brings back pleasant memories from my childhood. I remember spending the night at my grandmother Gaga's apartment (fondly called "the pink palace") where we would share a warm, comforting meal of her delicious navy beans and ham soup. This simple meal we often would have together because she was the kind of person that would make your favorite dish when she knew you were coming over for a visit. I always loved that about her! Although it's been a couple of decades since she past away, I can't help but think of Gaga every time I make this meal. I've changed her recipe a bit, using less sugar and making it much thicker than soup, but the taste satisfies my memory. I enjoy mine with a slice of homemade cornbread to soak up the wonderful, rich broth.

There is another story about this family favorite. My daughter was 3 or 4 years old and had always been satisfied with the meals placed before her. That particular night, it was her first experience with Gaga's navy beans with ham and, to our surprise, when she finished her bowl she held it up and asked for more. It was the first time she had ever asked for a second helping of any food. I agree, this delicious recipe deserves an encore! It is so good, you won't make it just once. Like for me, it may become one of your favorites, too!

Navy Beans and Ham
(Serves 8)

1 pound dried navy (small white beans) or great northern beans
½ tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dried mustard
3 tablespoons sugar
1 whole onion
Leftover ham bone with some meat (or pieces of leftover ham)
½ tablespoon salt or to taste

1. Pick through and rinse dried beans. Place in a large mixing bowl and cover with cold water (at least 3 inches over top of beans) and soak overnight or for at least 4 hours until plump.

2. Drain and rinse beans and place in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot with lid. Cover with fresh water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 15-20 minutes or until skins split and curl when you blow on them. Bring pot over to the sink, add baking soda and stir. Beans will bubble and release their gas. (Do this over the sink in case the liquid bubbles over the top of the pot.) Drain and rinse beans in a colander. Return beans to pot.

3. Preheat oven to 275-degrees. Add fresh water until beans are just covered. Add dried mustard and sugar; stir to combine. Add onion that has been peeled of outer papery skin, but leave whole so it will not fall apart while cooking. Add ham bone or ham pieces to pot and cover. Cook in oven for 2 hours.

4. Remove ham bone from beans and remove any meat and cut into bite-size pieces. Add ham to pot and add salt to taste. Test beans for doneness. If additional cooking is required, return to oven and continue cooking until beans are soft and mealy. Total cooking time is usually between 2-3 hours, but may differ depending on altitude and type of bean used. Before serving, remove onion and discard.

Nutritional Information per serving: 253 calories, 38.9 g carbohydrate, 3 g total fat, 0.7 g saturated fat, 13.8 g fiber, 18.8 g protein.

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2010
Inspired by a recipe from the cooking notebooks of my grandmother, Grace Layman.

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