18 June 2013

Ham & White Bean Soup with Pesto

June is without a doubt one of the best months of the year.  The weather warms up, the barbecues come out, the days are longer and you can sleep with the windows open.  Fresh produce predominates the market and silly things like frozen foods are nearly forgotten.  That is, until I get a whim to clean out my freezer one weekend and stumble across a bag of leftover ham from Easter.  "Good grief," thought I, looking at this forgotten little package of protein, "weren't you suppose to be soup?"  And not just any soup, but my all time favorite ham soup.  So yes, it's June and yes, I'm posting a soup recipe.  But it's still cold in Alaska, right?

Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn't like ham soup.  Whenever it was served at the dinner table, she undoubtedly went to bed hungry.  No matter how she cried, begged and insisted she just wanted milk for dinner, her sensible and prudent parents staunchly insisted that she eat the meal they prepared or go without.  Three guesses as to who that little girl was.  Yep...my momma raised me right (and in case you were worried, I always got extra milk on those nights).  In time, I learned to stomach ham soup, but it was never really my thing.  That is, until I tasted my first ham soup with pesto.  That changed my tune entirely.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was older, a college graduate who had learned to appreciate a good meal by eating thousands of servings of Easy Mac, and had changed my attitude about ham and bean soup.  But honestly, I think it was just the pesto.  My post-collegiate self was absolutely addicted to this delicious basil-garlic spread.  It was around this time that my mother dug out a white bean and ham soup recipe out of one of her cookbooks that called for pesto.  She made it when I was over for dinner one evening...and I took home all the leftovers.  I absolutely loved the stuff.  It was your regular white bean and ham soup, but with an added dollop of pesto that was stirred in just before eating.  Genius!

When pesto is stirred into hot broth, the result is absolutely delectable.  It melts into the broth completely, letting its flavor permeate into every crevice of your bowl.  The salty ham is balanced by herbaceous basil, and the white beans taste like heaven in the broth.  The end result is hearty yet refreshing, a tricky thing to accomplish out of a ham and bean soup.  Serve this with a side of crusty bread for dunking and I am in ham soup heaven.

What the hubs most enjoys about this meal is the "eater interaction".  He compares it to chicken satay at a Thai restaurant where they let you cook your own meat, assisting in the preparation of your dish.  Or if you happen to be a bit more mainstream, you may have had a similar experience at the Melting Pot.  There is something incredibly satisfying about finishing off a dish yourself just before diving in, and that's the pesto in this recipe.  Just a scoop, dollop and stir stand between you and this beautiful little dinner.

My biggest recommendation:  Do not add any extra salt! Between the ham and canned beans, you will absolutely have plenty to go around.  I like to throw a bit of cabbage in as well to further cut the saltiness, but you could substitute celery very easily if you happen to have that rattling around your vegetable drawer.

Ham & White Bean Soup with Pesto (6-7 servings)
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 2 c shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 c chicken broth
  • 2 15-oz cans white beans, rinsed and drained (great northern, cannellini or navy)
  • 3 c diced ham
  • 1/2 c pesto
Place a large saucepan over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom.  Add the onion and cook until they are tender and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Transfer the cabbage into the pan and stir together well, then cook for another 3-4 minutes until slightly wilted.  Season with pepper.

Pour the broth into the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high.  When the broth begins to boil, add the white beans and ham.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  

When the soup is ready, serve in individual bowls.  Top each bowl with about a tablespoon of pesto.  Stir in and enjoy with relish.  Awesome with crusty bread or crackers.  Leftovers freeze like a dream.

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