Monday, November 22, 2010

Fast White Bean Stew

In an effort to eat better quality food, I recently started buying my meat from a local farm. This is advantageous in a lot of ways, but one of the few disadvantages is that you can’t pick and choose your cuts. With our recent pork order, for example, I received a few packages of thick, uncooked ham slices. I’m not a big fan of ham, so they sat in our freezer for the past couple of months until Mike, thinking that they were ordinary deli-style ham slices, put them in the fridge to thaw.

Imagine his disappointment when he realized that the contents of the package marked “ham slices” would not be going on a sandwich with mustard and cheese anytime soon. Instead we cooked the ham, cubed it, and, while Mike ate some of it in omelettes and the like, I went looking for a soup recipe to use it in. In my search I came across mostly split pea soup (which I love but Mike hates, so no go), or rich, creamy stuff like corn chowders that weren't what I was feeling at the moment.

I probably would never have made the recipe posted below if not for all the glowing reviews it received on At first glance it seemed too minimalist to create a great soup and the ingredients struck me as kind of an odd mix. However, I had all the ingredients on hand so I decided to trust in the reviewers and make a batch. And man am I glad I did. This soup was incredibly quick and easy to make, yet it had the complexity and flavor of something that had been simmering away for hours. It was hearty and satisfying but still healthy: a perfect weeknight dinner for the busy, food-filled holiday season. If only I had some more ham…

White Bean Stew (From Gourmet Magazine, January 2007, via

I did tweak this recipe just a little bit. Like many reviewers, I used baby spinach instead of the romaine or arugula that the recipe recommended. I also added a little bit of paprika and cayenne pepper to the soup to give it a little heat. Red pepper flakes would probably also work well. Oh, and I skipped the toasts. I thought this soup was filling enough not to need bread served with it.

2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes (I used Italian style)
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1 (1/2-pound) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (5-ounce) bag baby romaine, baby arugula, or baby spinach (10 cups loosely packed)
8 (3/4-inch-thick) slices baguette
pinch of paprika and cayenne pepper, if desired

1) Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes.
2) Coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil.(I skipped this step and just broke up the tomatoes with a spatula when I added them to the pot).
3) Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil.
4) Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in greens and cook until wilted, 3 minutes for romaine or 1 minute for arugula.
5) While stew is simmering, preheat broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil.
6) Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until golden, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

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