This is one of those meals I have been cooking for years and I look forward to a warm bowl of it when the nights are cold. The aroma wafting from the kitchen takes me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s the ham hock. The good smell it produces is matched only by the exceptional flavor it imparts.
If your days are busy, take a few minutes to prep your veggies the night before. Suddenly, a hearty, wholesome dinner the next day will require mere minutes of your time. The cheese toasts are a nice extra but certainly not necessary.
A variety of greens may be substituted for the kale, including Swiss chard, spinach, and collard greens. I like to remove the meat from the ham hock and stir it into the soup — I think it is those flavorful pieces that make my kids forget they are eating beans! — but it is the actual bone that truly lends the flavor to the broth and enables you to use all water (rather than chicken or vegetable both) in the preparation.
- 8 cups (2 quarts) water (see note regarding stock or broth for leftovers)
- 1 pound dried white beans (such as cannellini or great Northern)
- 1 ham hock
- 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bunch fresh kale, tough stems removed and leaves chopped or torn
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 12-14 slices baguette (about 8 ounces)
- 1 cup shredded cheese (I like Asiago or Gruyere with this soup)
- Olive oil and garlic clove, optional
Combine the water, beans, ham hock, onion, carrot, celery, and thyme in a 4-6-quart slow cooker.
Cover and cook until the beans are tender, 5-6 hours on low. Total cooking time will depend on whether you like the soup to be very creamy (in which case you will want to cook about 8 hours on low) or whether you prefer the beans to be firmer to the bite (in this case, check after about 5 hours on low).
About twenty minutes before serving, remove the ham hock and the thyme stems and stir in the kale. Continue to cook for 15 minutes while you remove the meat from the ham bone. Then stir in the ham pieces along with the vinegar, salt and pepper.
Cook for another couple of minutes to thoroughly heat, and then ladle into bowls and top with a cheese toast, if desired.
To prepare the cheese toasts: Place the bread slices in an even layer on a cookie and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until crisp. If desired, you may brush with a little olive oil and rub with a garlic clove prior to baking. (You may complete this step in advance and store for several days in an air-tight container.) Just before serving the soup, sprinkle the bread with the cheese and broil, watching closely, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Beans, rice, and pasta will continue to absorb broth as soup leftovers sit overnight in the refrigerator. I like to have plenty of extra chicken stock on hand to thin back to the consistency we prefer. This always manages to stretch the leftovers further than I think they will go and maintains the flavor of the soup instead of diluting it as additional water would do.
- As an additional note, I have made this soup many times with a 14.5-ounce can of no-salt diced tomatoes added at the beginning. Both ways are equally delicious.