16 April, 2009
at least one Washington success story
It's amazing: something good has come at last out of our nation's capital and it's a remarkable tale: it costs almost nothing, requires no compromise, and openly contains pork: the ham hock kind!
United States Senate Bean Soup is a relic of my husband's childhood, a dish I have heard glowing reports of all the 26 years I have known him, to the point that I was certain no mere foodstuff could achieve all he claimed for it. And since until very recently, beans and I have not been on speaking terms, there was no way I was producing something in my kitchen that not only contained beans, but had the temerity to include them in the TITLE of the dish. At least chilli sounded innocuous to me, although I knew most recipes contained the hated ingredient.
Well, in the last year I have flip-flopped so thoroughly on the whole bean issue that I'm virtually a spokesperson for the United States Dry Bean Council (yes, there is one, and in case you were wondering, there are 13 members and five staff: a bit top heavy, you may say, but who knows what the workload is). I actually think I deserve a seat on an international organization, not one devoted merely to jingoistic bean concerns. After all, my musings are mid-Atlantic. But I digress.
United States Senate Bean Soup has, it turns out, been on the menu in the Senate dining room continuously, every single blessed day, for over a hundred years. Rumor has it (yes, in Washington even beans are victims of the rumor mill) that two different Senators proposed recipes for this delicacy, but my mother in law, when questioned, plumped immediately for the version attributed to Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho, because it contains, guess what: POTATOES. Now for those of you who are my international readers, I must give you a very short history of the state of Idaho. It produces a LOT of potatoes.
My experience with this soup is a little unfair, trading as it does on a superbly braised ham hock from my Easter dinner, the ham itself a king among pork products coming from Mr Stenton's personal store, down the road at my neighborhood butcher here in Hammersmith. The solutions to this are two. One, you too can acquire a superb gammon joint from your English butcher, braise it for Easter, and use the ham hock in your soup. Or you can follow the recipe below, and see how it goes. I have to confess as well (since I'm not really much of a DC insider, I like to confess things) that where the recipe calls for water to cover (about six cups of water), I had at my disposal two cups of golden brown elixir in the form of the liquid that gathered in my braising dish: mostly ham juice, but mixed in was the original honey-mustard marinade. Unfair, I know! But this all means that you must simply follow my Easter recipe and THEN make your soup. It's not that hard to think ahead, after all.
This recipe makes me proud, as do so many things coming out of Washington these days, to be an American. So hand on the bible, flag waving in the background, I give you:
United States Senate Bean Soup
4 cups Navy beans (if you're in America; here in the UK I used haricots, or flageolets would be fine)
1 ham hock with meat still clinging to it
4 medium (Idaho) potatoes
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 white onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
large handful parsley, chopped
Bring the ham hock and beans to a boil in a large stockpot covered with water (and the ham cooking liquid if you're lucky). Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until soft, then drain and mash. Add to the ham liquid and mix thoroughly. Bring to the boil again, then add the chopped vegetables, including the parsley. Bring to the boil one more time, then simmer for at least an hour (but indefinitely will do). When nearly ready to serve, take the ham hock out and when cool enough to handle, take the usable meat from it and add in bite-sized pieces to the broth. Serve with crusty bread to soak up juices.
Be sure not to salt this soup and the ham itself will be salty enough. This soup will warm not only your insides, but your heart and that of your family, when they enter the house to smell the aroma. Pure luxury, on an affordable scale.
Let's see, tomorrow is sushi in Piccadilly with my friend Jo from Oxford, then off to "The View From the Bridge" with Ken Stott. Avery will have a sleepover with a friend because something tells me the play is NOT family friendly. But it's one of those London privileges that we must take advantage of. Until I'm summoned to the Bean Council, that is. Next up: Crispy Lame Duck.