Here’s a cooking question for the ages: is it possible to take a classic, tried and true recipe and improve upon it? Is there a quintessentially perfect basic blueberry muffin, for example, or pot roast, and is it a sacrilege to modify them? Or how about a ham and bean soup? As far as I know, Americans have been making ham and bean soup since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. (Or at least once they figured out how to not starve–go read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book Mayflower for a lesson on how the Pilgrims were kind of boneheads when it came to agriculture.) Anyway, if not since Plymouth Rock, ham and bean soup has been an American staple at least since the 1980s–I know because there’s a recipe for it in my very own passed-down Better Homes and Gardens “Red and White” cookbook.
Which, come to find out, is now going for 90 bucks on the Internet. Sweet!
If a recipe is in the red and white cookbook, I consider it a classic. But to tell you the truth, last week when I read through the Ham and Bean Soup recipe in the BHG Bible, it just didn’t excite me. It used water instead of broth, had minimal seasonings, and called for dried navy beans when I wanted canned. The one thing that DID match my criteria was that it used a ham bone, which I had saved from our Christmas Ham-fest. Still, that wasn’t enough to give it the pizzazz I was hoping for, so I decided to tempt fate and tinker until I came up with something a bit more interesting. Adding chicken broth, carrots, dry mustard, and nutmeg gave this hearty soup enough flavor to eliminate the need for added salt–always a plus, if you ask me. And cutting out the dried bean soaking time got it from prep to table in under an hour. After two bites, my 7-year-old proclaimed it his new favorite soup of all time.
So, if I dare say it, I think our family has a new classic Ham and Bean Soup. Try it out and tell me if you feel the same.
Ham and White Bean Soup
A hearty soup to warm you from the inside out!
In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and ham bone and saute until vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.
Remove ham bone and bay leaves and serve.
This recipe is one of those with a name too long for my blog’s title box parameters. If I had my way, I would call it “Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Cauliflower Soup with Goat Cheese,” but that’s, like, more characters than you can even fit in a Twitter post. When you’re a food lover and recipe developer, though, it’s kind of like being in love–when you find a great recipe, you want to shout from the rooftops about all its wonderful qualities (and the various ingredients that give it its complex flavor profile). You don’t want to leave anything out. With this soup, I want to tell the world that it manages to be both creamy and chunky, that it beautifully blends the boldness of roasted red peppers with the subtler flavor of cauliflower, and that it’s a perfect bowl of healthy vegetarian comfort on a cold winter’s night. But my title box on the blog can only take so many words, so let’s just call it by the abbreviated name “Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup.” Think of it like that Fiona Apple album that everyone just calls When the Pawn, when the real title is:
“When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right.”
You’re welcome for that.
At any rate, this soup is a whole food recipe you can feel good about in the midst of this season of indulgence. Make it a meal by serving with a side of crusty bread. And when you taste the mix of roasted red pepper, cauliflower, onion, garlic, spices, and goat cheese, you’ll understand what I mean about acknowledging every ingredient. Feel free to shout from your rooftop!
Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup
This vegetarian soup is both healthy and hearty!
Heat broiler to high and place red peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet about 4 inches from the broiler. Broil until skins are mostly blackened, checking frequently, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a sealed container and let steam for 20 minutes. Peel off skins and dice peppers.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast 20-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Heat the other 1 Tbsp. in a stock pot over medium heat and saute the onion until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute. Add diced red peppers, roasted cauliflower, broth, paprika, and goat cheese and simmer 10 minutes.
Puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender, stir in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and serve.