Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

White Bean Soup with Ham Hocks and Kale

Misty Vineyard


 or the last month it has been cold and rainy. The idea of soup just wouldn't get out of our heads. Something thick and hearty. Our go to is split pea with smoked ham hock, so we had ham hocks in the freezer. This time, though, we also had some cannellini beans in the pantry which led us to find  the recipe we are using here. It is from Saveur. As often happens, we made a few, this time pretty minor, changes to suit our needs. And we're planning on ordering the book it came from ("Soups and Stews"). It was really that good.

What did we do differently? Why more ham hock (we think), some to go in the soup and the rest on top per the recipe? Why don't we know whether it is more ham hock? Because how big is a ham hock anyway? We had a really nice big ham hock that was full of meat which we had the butcher cut into 4 pieces. Two we already used, but the rest still had a huge amount of meat. This recipe calls for crisping the cooked meat and putting it on top. But there was plenty to do that with half and put the rest in the soup. Perfect! Why more kale? We used what the recipe called for and thought it needed a little more.

Ham Hocks


am Hocks seem to be relatively easy to get, at least the smoked variety. Many ordinary groceries have them. We're fortunate to have a butcher who gets really large ones and they are quite happy to take their band saw and turn them into large meaty pieces perfect for several recipes. What you see in the picture is half of the ham hock we got. Not so much bone, lots of meat.

Ham hock

The hock is not any part of the foot of the pig, but rather is just below the part of the leg that would be just below the shoulder. Most of the time it will be smoked, though there are recipes that do call for the unsmoked variety. However, that is really hard to find. The original recipe called for boiling the hock in the soup, then shredding and frying all of the meat and putting it on top of the soup. We had so much meat when we are done that we decided to put half of the shredded meat into the soup and the rest in the called for fry and on top. Look for a nice big ham hock and do it our way for a really tasty hearty dish.



he recipe calls for Lacinato kale, if you can get it, otherwise just use any kale. Kale, a relative of cabbage, has been all the rage for the last few years so it was quite easy to find the Lacinato variety, which, according to Wikipedia is also known as cavolo nero, Tuscan kale, Tuscan cabbage, Italian kale, dinosaur kale, flat black cabbage, palm tree kale, or black Tuscan palm. It has long been used in Tuscan cooking, particularly in soups like the one we are doing here.

Why is it such the rage? Best we can tell, because the 'super food lovers' segment of society have decided that it is full of special nutrients. That may be, but for us, we are going on taste. If you can find Lacinato kale, try it and see for yourself whether you could have just used regular kale.

(The downside of all this kale rage? We really like mustard greens and it seems all the demand for kale has pushed mustard greens off grocery shelves around us. Only so much room!)

By the way, we didn't use all of the big bunch we bought, so it was enough for a side dish with another dinner. We sauted some red onion, wilted the kale (see recipe below), added some chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper, cooked it down and we were all set.

Do You Have to Soak Your Beans? 


ost recipes say you have to soak dried beans before using them. As seems to be the case with so many things, there are new theories and new ways to go about it. It seems to us that the general answer is NO, you don't have to do it. One of the best articles we've found on the subject is from Russ Parsons of the L.A. Times and we encourage you to read the entire piece. The general takeaway? Soaking doesn't help the taste or texture. It doesn't reduce the gas producing nature of beans. It does, however, let you cook the beans in less time, but perhaps at the cost of flavor, depending on how you do it. So you don't have to soak your beans.

Or at least so we thought...

Now comes food science star J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from the Serious Eats website and the book The Food Lab (six pounds of excellence and thus not much suitable for reading in bed; we know). He manages to blow up two theories at once. Not only does he soak his beans, he salts them while soaking and adds more while cooking. Lots of recipes claim salt is going to make your beans tough. He says no. His testing showed him that using one tablespoon per quart (15 grams per liter) of salt in the soaking water results in "fully tender, creamy, intact beans that are well seasoned throughout". (He also salts his cooking water, but does warn that you must be careful as they might get too salty overall.) He also soaks them for exactly the reason that has been long known, it will make the cooking time shorter.

Here's another really good article from Serious Eats on preparing beans which also talks about the 'quick soak' method. If you don't have the beans in advance (or forgot to soak them, as we have), you can split the difference. Cover beans with water using just enough salt to make the water taste 'pleasantly salty'. Boil over high heat, then remove from the heat and leave them alone for an hour. Drain. They are now ready to use.

Watch out, though, for really old beans. They can dry out so much that it might take forever and a day to get them cooked, often with soaking as well. So the best thing is to buy your beans and don't think you can keep them forever just because they look so well preserved. We've made that mistake and only a long time in a pressure cooker has saved us, and sometimes not even then.

That being said, we're going to tell you to soak them for this recipe only because that's how we did it this time. But we encourage you to try it a different way. Actually, next time we do this soup, we're going to consider doing this:  We'll skip the soaking, saute the vegetables in a pressure cooker, add the stock, ham hocks and cannellini beans, some salt,  and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. When we can open the pressure cooker (whether by waiting or quick release), we'll remove the ham hocks then bring the rest back to pressure and cook another 20 minutes. If you are using beans that cook in about 20 minutes under pressure, you can skip this two part step. There is a very useful chart that gives cooking times for beans at fastcooking,ca. We'll have to see if it changes the taste. In the end, though,  you only save about an hour.

Beans before soaking
Beans before soaking, about 1/4 way up the pot.
Beans after soaking
Beans after soaking, almost up the the top of pot.

Exploding Kitchen Equipment


es, it's true, some kitchen items are dangerous. Besides the standard knives and ovens, the rather mundane blender can be a fountain of problems (lousy pun intended). If you put hot liquid in a blender and turn it on, there is a very real chance that, unless you've taken precautions, you'll find a lot of the liquid on your walls, ceiling and unfortunately on you, in a very bad, scalding way.

Blender with Open Hole on Top
See the steam?
Blender With Towel
Cover it up and hold it down!

Want all the science? Check out this article at Kitchen Savvy.

Your blender is a powerful device. When you turn it on you are causing the liquid to heat up. If you remember your school science, things that are cold take up less space (the atoms/molecules are closer together). Things that are hot take up more space. If you heat something up in a closed container, unless it has a very strong lid (like, say, a pressure cooker), the lid IS going to blow off and all that hot liquid is going to go everywhere. And it can produce very dangerous burns.

The answer you  usually hear is "put a towel over the top". What's that going to do? Sop up all the liquid as it comes out? What you see people do is put the towel on top of of the lid and hold down. OK, fine. Unless the pressure is such that you can't hold it down so again, explosion, though maybe the towel will catch some of it--if you're lucky.  

Our blender has a lid with a hole on top and a stopper. We find for us (you have to do what works for you), is to remove the stopper and put the towel on top.  You need to be able to let the pressure release without the explosive forces. You still need to hold it down some, but remember now there is a chance that the hot liquid is going to come up and be HOT. So be careful with what you are doing. If your device lets you start out slow and work your way up to the fastest speed, definitely start out slow (but STILL use that towel)! If the lid doesn't have a hole, make sure the lid is somewhat ajar, again, to release the pressure. Also, best not to fill the jar! The less in there the more space for expansion before it blows up. Be careful.

The Recipe

White Bean and Kale Soup with Smoked Ham Hock

Main Ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil, portioned out for different uses.
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 largish carrot, roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups cannellini or Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and drained
1 bouquet garni (1 tsp. whole black peppercorns, 2 each bay leaves, sprigs rosemary, and thyme tied up in cheesecloth)
1 large, meaty smoked ham hock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 stalks lacinato or regular kale (stems thinly sliced, leaves halved lengthwise and thinly sliced)

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high (actually we got away with about 2TB, use what works for you). Cook garlic, celery, carrot, and onion until golden, 10–12 minutes.

Boquet Garni
Bouquet Garni (Fresh Thyme, Fresh Rosemary, Peppercorns and Bay Leaves tied up in cheesecloth)

Add stock, beans, bouquet garni, and ham hock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered slightly, until beans are mushy, 1–1 1/2 hours give or take.

Remove and dispose of the bouquet garni. Transfer ham hock to a plate (or as we prefer, a teflon frying pan for easy clean up) and let cool. Discard the skin and bone and shred the meat. Transfer half the beans to a bowl; set aside. Using an immersion or regular blender, purée soup until very smooth.

Shredded Pork
Shredded Pork. We'll use half in the soup and crisp up half to put on top .

Stir in reserved beans, salt, and pepper, tasting for seasoning and keep warm if using right away. Hopefully you've gotten that really big ham hock and have lots of meat. If so, put half of the shredded meat into the soup.

Half of Pork in Soup
Half of the pork goes into the pureed soup.

You can easily stop at this point and refrigerate the soup for finishing just before eating.

Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high. Cook the sliced kale stems until tender, 3 to 5 minutes or so. Add the sliced kale leaves, salt, and pepper; cook until leaves are wilted, 2–3 minutes or so, and stir into soup.

Kale in Soup
Put the kale into the soup. Don't make the mistake we did and forget to slice it up before you sauté it!
Add remaining oil to skillet; cook shredded pork until crisp, 6–8 minutes.

Crisping Pork

Ladle soup into heated bowls (we always heat just about all our dinnerware); top with crispy pork. We also like a nice crunchy baguette of French bread or sourdough to go with it.

Recipe Notes

Why haven't we said how many this recipe serves? Because we don't know how much you eat and how you are eating it.  Is this a soup before dinner or is it dinner? Are  you very hungry or not? Did you find a nice big ham hock with lots of meat that is going to feed more? The original of the recipe above 'says' it serves 8.  

When we made it for the first time, we made a 2/3rd recipe and two people ate all of it (we were very full). Besides, what's the difference between 2/3rds of a carrot or stalk of celery and a whole carrot or stalk of celery. Given size variation, really nothing. The only place where we stuck to it was with the stock (we used 6 cups) and the beans (about 2 cups). The rest? Pretty much as it reads. So don't sweat the details on the size and amounts of things, just use common sense and, we say, aim for more and have the leftovers for breakfast or lunch. Straying from the original recipe, we suspect we used a lot more meat than the ham hock than they were planning on and we think it should have more kale than they called for (we already upped the amount in the recipe above, use less if you don't think you are a fan). When it comes to soup, you don't much need a recipe, but just mix together all the stuff you like and see what you get. Still, this one guides you and the crispy pork on top is a nice touch we haven't seen often.

Oh, and we admit it. We forgot to slice up the kale before we sauteed it! So our pictures are a little off. Really pays to read a recipe a lot before trying it!

Finished Dish

Wine Pairing

Nalle Winery

2015 Cabernet Sauvigon
he ingredient list for this deeply satisfying soup says so much about the depth of flavor here! The 2015 Cab would be a perfect match. Classic Cab flavors, not overdone. Structured tannins but not grippy.  (A grippy wine is one that grabs you in the mouth with astringency and texture.)

Nalle Winery Squirrels


Here is summary of the recipe in a .pdf you can print