The natural response to a meaty ham bone, left over from the maple-sugared, spiral slices from a family meal is either "doggie dinner" or revamped in a flavorful duet of Ham and Beans with navy beans - the humble, smallish white beans have a way of coaxing the smokey rich flavor from the ham and in their turn when cooked to perfection add a creamy silkiness to the mixture. This homey stew evokes images of cowboys on the trail gathered round the chuck wagon, summer picnics with the obligatory pork and beans, but for me, an iron hook mortared into the brick inside the fireplace on which hung a perfectly witchy black iron pot. What is it they say about boys born to the country - that you can't get the country out of them? My father was such a boy and his penchant for cooking beans and soup over a coal fire in our living room was a symptom of either the "country" in his soul, having lived through the depression or a secret yearning to have been a cowboy. His concoctions bubbled on for days and often included what we children considered strange white carrots, that didn't taste right (parsnips). But we were delighted to watch as he added mysterious ingredients to his potion, then with cooing incantations and the sorcery of time, transformed the contents to an edible, if not fantastic soup.
To be blunt, the prepared dish of ham and beans sometimes resembles cow trails on the drive or leavings of the Depression and is humbly lacking in sophistication. In my effort to prettify the dish, I top each serving with small fried potato-swiss croquettes, breaded with a crispy crust which contrasts in texture with the silky beans. Swiss cheese with ham is a natural pairing and the potato - a soothing whimsy of superfluous fluff. The fresh bite of the green onions is just the thing to spark the beans up for a night on the trail or in the country and is anything but depressing. No black iron pots or magic required!
Ham & Beans with Potato-Swiss Croquettes
Meaty ham bone (or 1 lb. ham steak, cut into 1 inch cubes)
bacon, 8 slices, diced and fried crisp (if using ham steak)
2 cups dried white navy beans
1 tab. tomato paste
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
2 -3 cups water
2 tsp. vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tab. brown sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
salt and black pepper to taste
dash of red pepper
-Rinse navy beans. Cover with cold water and let sit 4 - 6 hours. Drain and rinse beans.
-In large dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tab. oil and saute onions, celery and carrots for about 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and continue to saute 1 minute. (If using ham steak, cook diced bacon until crispy and stir in with vegetables before adding broth to the vegetables.) Add rinsed beans to pot with chicken broth, water, ham bone, thyme, vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, black pepper, and red pepper. Bring to a boil. Skim off any froth that may rise to the top. Cover with a lid and simmer 1 1/2 hours until beans are almost tender.
- (If using ham steak, add to beans at this point.) Remove lid and continue to simmer another 30 minutes, until broth has reduced and beans are very tender. Remove ham bone from broth and pick off the meat, shred and return to the beans and broth. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Stir in parsley.
2 large potatoes, boiled with skins on
3 tab. butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cups grated swiss cheese
dash of cayenne
1 tab. paprika
2 eggs slightly beaten
2 tab. milk
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 cups vegetable oil (canola oil recommended)
8 green onions, finely chopped
-Let cooked potatoes cool about 10 minutes. Peel off skins with paring knife. Cut potatoes into quarters and place in large mixing bowl and mash potatoes with potato masher until all lumps are gone. Stir in butter until smooth. Stir in lightly beaten egg, salt and pepper, cheeses, flour, parlsy cayenne and paprika. Let mixture cool until able to handle.
-Wet hands and roll mixture into small golfball-sized balls. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Prepare 3 wide flat bowls; one with 2 slightly beaten eggs mixed with 2 tab. milk, one with 1 cup flour and one with 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan cheese and paprika. Roll each ball in flour, then egg dip and finally in bread crumbs. Chill until ready to fry.
-Bring 2 cups oil in heavy-bottomed medium saucepan to 375 degrees or until a bread cube cooks to a golden brown in 30 seconds. Carefully lower balls into hot oil and fry until golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes, turning as necessary. Remove croquettes from oil and drain on paper towels.
To Serve Ham & Beans:
-Place ladle full of warm ham and beans into individual serving bowls and top with 3 potato croquettes. Garnish with sprinkle of green onions.
**When you don't have a meaty ham bean on hand (or the dog has skulked off with it to bury it in the backyard) use diced or shredded ham from a ham steak or boneless ham. To obtain the intense rich flavor provided by the ham bone, substitute bacon in recipe.
**Beans: Great Northern beans are often used in this recipe but I prefer the daintier navy bean, but either white bean is fine.