General bean information:
To prepare beans for cooking:
In a colander, rinse the beans under cold water and discard any discolored ones and remove any rocks etc.
Sometimes dried beans are kept in storage for YEARS. Older beans require soaking from 2 to 8 hours (maximum) Fresh beans (this years crop) may not require any soaking. Soaking reduces cooking times. Always soak in cold water. Always drain after soaking and use fresh water for cooking. Excessive soaking will cause beans to swell and split.
In a kettle combine the beans with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches, bring the water to a boil, and boil the beans for 2 minutes. Remove the kettle from the heat and let the beans soak, covered, for 1 hour. Drain, use fresh water for cooking.
Seasonings and Garnishes:
The rule of thumb is: If you don’t like a particular seasoning, don’t put it in! If you like a particular seasoning add more! Try adding hot sauce, peppers, fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs or cheeses at the table. Salt is usually added at the end of cooking to avoid toughening of the beans. Beans used in salads are salted during cooking to keep them a little firmer.
This is a hearty stew that is hard to beat.
1 lb. (3 cups) dried Great Northern beans
1 lb. smoked ham shanks or hocks
¼ cup bacon drippings (or ¼ cup olive oil)
2 cups chopped onion
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 lb. peeled and diced tomatoes
4 fresh thyme sprigs
8 cups chicken broth
1 lb. arugula, coarse stems removed (can use fresh spinach or other greens.) Arugula is a mustard green with a peppery flavor.
Tabasco to taste
To cook beans:
Simmer ham shanks in 6 cups of water in a 3 quart saucepan, partially covered, skimming foam as necessary for 1 hour. Reserve 4 cups of cooking liquid and drain ham hocks. Heat bacon drippings in an 8 quart heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion and garlic until soft. Do not burn the garlic. Add tomatoes and thyme, cook for 1 minute. Add chicken broth, reserved cooking liquid, ham hocks and beans. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender.
Make croutons while soup simmers:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Melt butter with garlic and toss together with corn bread cubes in a shallow baking pan. Toast in oven until lightly browned and crisp on the outside, about 15 minutes.
Prepare for serving:
Remove ham shanks and shred meat. Return meat to pot and stir in arugla. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Serve beans topped with croutons.