Remember eating canned “Bean with Bacon” soup as a kid? My mom (and sometimes my dad) made great homemade bean soup but the canned soup was always just that little bit better. Our homemade soup was usually made with ham and often the ham bone as well. It was the bacon, or maybe just the idea of bacon, that made the canned soup so good.
I hope I haven’t been misleading. This soup is made with a smoky ham. My P.S. (Pork Supplier/hubby) recently bought a ham and I’m always excited about using the bone once I trim off the ham chunks. I put the bone in a big soup pot with water and let it bubble away for hours to get that delicious ham broth. Later, after I’d washed down my sweating walls (I should learn to use a lid on my soup pot!) I let the bone cool then picked off the meaty bits and saved those as well.
This time I was craving a bean soup and my mind kept roaming to my favorite Campbell’s soup. Well maybe not my absolute favorite, but up there with the top 5. This ham was very smoky and way more like bacon than ham, if you can imagine that. Bean with bacon soup was going to be happening, with ham standing in for the bacon. Different degrees of piggy goodness, so to speak.
I made a ham and bean soup almost exactly a year ago, during one of our blizzards. This year, amazingly, we’ve had only one blizzard and it’s been above 32 degrees often. We’ve had more rain than snow in January, which is very, very unusual. I’ve made winter soups this year but they’re not quite as satisfying to make without the blizzard factor! Weather report finished, on to the soup!
There are dozens of copycat recipes online for the classic canned bean with bacon soup. The recipes vary so much that it makes me wonder at people’s palates. There’s a big difference between adding a couple of bay leaves and adding a teaspoon of thyme to a pot of soup. And why in the world would I want to add liquid smoke to the soup when using smoked bacon or ham is so much better? It was time to create my own recipe using bits and pieces of them all. I did post a link to the recipe I followed mostly closely under the recipe below.
I mentioned previously that when I cut the ham off the bone to store in the fridge, I’d made ham broth out of the bone. All of those bits that are nearly impossible to cut off cook up nicely and are easy to pick off with your fingers when cooled. I ended up with about 2 quarts of broth and about a cup of ham bits.
Next I followed the directions to soak my dry navy beans overnight, as I wanted to make the soup mostly from scratch. The next day I drained the beans, rinsed them with cold water one more time and set them aside until I was ready for them. My German grandfather once told me to rinse the beans after soaking to further remove any “gassy” effects later from the beans. I think that’s just an old wives, or maybe an old grandfather’s tale. Gas is still inevitable, at least in our family! Tacky sidebar over, let’s return to cooking!
The flavor of carrots, celery and onions is necessary for a good soup base, and I chopped them in small chunks. The celery is going to take the longest to cook but we’ll take care of that later.
Heating a large skillet with a drizzle of oil, I sautéed the vegetables for 7-8 minutes, until the onions were translucent. The time will depend on the size of your veggies and your heat. I used medium to prevent burning of the smaller pieces.
Onions softened, I added enough of the ham broth to the skillet to cover the vegetables and let it simmer on medium low for about 20 minutes, until the carrots were softened. Again the timing will depend on the size of the carrot pieces. I added 2 cups of water after about 10 minutes as the liquid had reduced down while the vegetables cooked..
Vegetables all softened, I poured the mixture into my crock pot and added the remainder of the ham broth. I used my immersion blender to puree the vegetables. Usually I like chunks of vegetables in my bean soup but I had that creamy canned soup in mind and the only chunks it had were beans.
To the pureed broth I added the navy beans, the cups of ham, the can of tomatoes and the bay leaf. I covered the crock pot and let it cook on high for 2 hours, then on low for 2 hours. I tested the beans and they were nicely softened and almost falling apart
I found and removed the bay leaf and used my potato masher to mash the beans a bit, mostly to thicken the soup with the pureed beans. I didn’t mash it very long as I wanted some beans and ham left for texture.
I taste tested the soup for salt and pepper, adding some of each until I was happy with it. Beware of salt, as the ham and the broth were fairly salty. I added a little at a time, stirred well, then tasted again before adding more.
The soup was excellent: rich and creamy and very close to what I had imagined! I put crumbled saltine crackers in my bowl of soup exactly as I did as a child and that made it even more of a copycat for me. The soup was perhaps even better the second day, reheated, with the smokiness of the ham even more noticeable. Bean and pea soups are almost always better the second day, I’ve found. This bean soup was close enough to my childhood memories that it will be a keeper. What next? Maybe “Chicken with Stars” soup?
Bean with Ham Soup
1 pound navy beans, soaked overnight
2 cups chopped smoked ham
1 large onion; finely chopped
3 ribs celery; chopped
3 carrots; chopped
8 cups of chicken broth; divided (I used ham broth made by simmering the ham bone for several hours)
15 ounces petite diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 5 ounce bag baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion, celery and carrots in a drizzle of oil in a nonstick skillet until onions are translucent. Add 2 cups of broth and simmer until carrots are softened.
Add vegetables and broth to slow cooker along with remaining 4 cups of broth. Using an immersion blender, puree vegetables.
Drain the navy beans and add to the slow cooker. Add ham, tomatoes and bay leaf. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours.
Remove the bay leaf and puree the beans briefly to thicken the soup, leaving about half the beans intact for texture. Taste test, carefully adding salt and pepper to taste.
Add spinach and stir until wilted. Serve hot.
About 6-8 servings
Adapted from Recipe.com