Mary Therese Biebel
                                Times Leader Test Kitchen

Mary Therese Biebel

Times Leader Test Kitchen

<p>Ingredients for the ham and bean soup I made this week include, clockwise from top left: ham, onions, carrots, beans and celery. Another important ingredient is a ham bone, with meat still clinging to it. It’s not in the photo because I was afraid some readers might find it not aethetically pleasing.</p>
                                 <p>Mary Therese Biebel | Times Leader</p>

Ingredients for the ham and bean soup I made this week include, clockwise from top left: ham, onions, carrots, beans and celery. Another important ingredient is a ham bone, with meat still clinging to it. It’s not in the photo because I was afraid some readers might find it not aethetically pleasing.

Mary Therese Biebel | Times Leader

<p>After the ham, onions, celery and celery have sauteed in a bit of olive oil, they’re flavors have been enhanced and they’re ready to add to the soup pot.</p>
                                 <p>Mary Therese Biebel | Times Leader</p>

After the ham, onions, celery and celery have sauteed in a bit of olive oil, they’re flavors have been enhanced and they’re ready to add to the soup pot.

Mary Therese Biebel | Times Leader

<p>Comforting and warm, healthful and thrifty, ham and bean soup can please a crowd.</p>
                                 <p>Mark Guydish | Times Leader</p>

Comforting and warm, healthful and thrifty, ham and bean soup can please a crowd.

Mark Guydish | Times Leader

“Awesome!” reporter Ed Lewis said after he tasted my homemade ham and bean soup in the newsroom this week.

“It’s very good,” said columnist Bill O’Boyle.

“It just took me back 40 years, in a good way,” editor Roger DuPuis said, explaining he used to enjoy a similar soup in his elementary school lunch room.

“It’s nostalgia,” he added, holding up the cup.

“It’s a very comforting and warm treat,” reporter Jennifer Learn-Andes said, taking time to analyze. “The ham is tender, and it seems healthy because of the beans and carrots.”

I have to agree, the beans and carrots in this latest Times Leader Test Kitchen offering, and the onions and celery, too, all provide good-for-you nutrients.

Another strategy I follow to “healthy up” any soup that includes meat is to make it the day before I intend to serve it and chill it overnight. The next day, it’s very easy to spoon off the layer of fat that has risen to the top.

Then it’s time to reheat — and enjoy.

I felt very frugal, in a satisfying, waste-not, want-not kind of way, as I turned the last remnants of our Christmas ham into a soup, combining aspects of more than one recipe, but predominantly following the one on the back of a package of Goya dried navy beans.

Those instructions gave me pause for awhile, because they were adamant about NOT soaking the beans.

Wait a minute, I thought. Isn’t soaking dried beans a time-honored tradition?

Searching online, I found articles by Russ Parsons of The Los Angeles Times, by Alex Delany at bonappetit.com and by Katherine Sacks at epicurious.com, who all agreed you don’t have to soak dried beans.

While Delany seemed to think there are still advantages to soaking them, Sacks said the cooking time you save is minimal, and Parsons described a comparison taste test in which he found beans were more flavorful when he didn’t soak them.

Anyway, I followed the package directions and refrained from soaking the beans, instead just cooking them in a pot with the ham bone, covered with water. I made a big double batch so I’d have enough for both the newsroom and my family, increased the onions and carrots (more than double) and also added some celery, plus thyme and bay leaves.

After the newsroom polished off about half the soup, I served some at home, where Mark said, in a complimentary kind of way, that this ham and bean offering tasted as if I’d “actually followed a recipe, for once, instead of making something up.” (You, gentle readers, know I sort of did/sort of didn’t follow a recipe.)

Then I took a serving over to my mother’s house, where she seconded Ed’s opinion from earlier in the day, even using a word that’s not usually part of her everyday lexicon.

“It’s awesome,” she said with a grin.

HAM AND BEAN SOUP

1 pound dried navy beans

2 large onions, sliced

2 large carrots, diced

2 large celery stalks, chopped

2 cups of diced ham

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

A ham bone, perhaps 1.5 pounds

About 12 cups water

Rinse and pick over the beans, in order to remove any bits of stone you might find. Place the beans in a pot with the ham bone, cover with cold water and bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour.

Meanwhile, saute the onions, carrots, celery and diced ham in olive oil for about 8 minutes, to enhance their flavors. Add the sauteed mix, along with the bay leaves and thyme, to the water in the pot where the ham and beans have been heating. Continue to simmer until the beans are tender.

Remove and discard the ham bone.

Chill the soup overnight to allow flavors to permeate and fat to rise to top of soup. Remove fat, and also be sure to search for and remove the bay leaves (because they are sharp and stiff, even after cooking, and can scratch your esophagus.) Then, re-heat the soup and enjoy!