Before I was so rudely interrupted with my unexpected stay at the hotel of medicine (known and respected for their experts and their service, but not so much for their decor), I had made a batch of cannellini beans, flavored with smoked ham shank (right on the tail of making the black beans with ham shank for soup and fajita which shared a cut piece of shank). My plans for this lovely, flavorful, white bean was to casually accompany my lamb rack for dinner and then have it dress up to star in a salad paired smartly with kale (for a trip to the office in my lunch tin). This is something I often plan on doing, but never actually do (make cannellini bean salad to bring for lunching at the office that is), so I was excited by my progress toward this effort and anticipated my upcoming lunch.
The first time I tried to cook cannellini beans (having only used canned beans prior), I was preparing them for a dinner I helped co-host with my boss at the time (a wonderful cook, but also comparable to Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada” – in that intimidatingly stylish sort of way). I spent the better part of a day, and long into the next, going through batch after batch of hard, uncooked, inedible beans. I will spare you the details each effort entailed, how costly (whole prosciutto ends, pink peppercorns, expensive herbs, and expensive beans) or how long. I ended up serving a large platter of Israeli cous cous instead (to accompany her stuffed pork tenderloin) for that particular course (which took all of about 1/2 an hour to prepare).
It wasn’t until Tom, lovingly, got me The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (years later) that I was able to produce a velvety bean, while following the able instruction of the late, great Judy Rogers. I have since taken to cooking most beans in my electric pressure cooker (a technique learned from my sister-in-law, Irma), which does shave off some time while producing a lovely result, however, I do still adhere to Judy’s basic rules.
I digress though. Upon my release (I mean return) from the medicinal hotel, the beans were still where I left them in the fridge, sealed tight and begging to be used. Being that a liquid diet was still in my cards, I opted to make some of them into a soup (which is how they often end up, but usually accompanied by kale and other goodies in a heartier dish). Knowing that beans, in full form, could present my intestinal problems, I decided to make them into a brothy concoction. Tom is not the largest fan of whipped beans (or any bean other than green, for that matter), so I had already planned something else for his meal and expected to keep this soup for myself. To my surprise though, he gave it a taste and proclaimed it to be good!
It is nurtured with bitters and brightened with fresh lime juice. I am rarely without a homemade chicken stock in my freezer, so with the beans already cooked, this comes together very quickly and has a smoky quality from the ham that adds a welcome layer. To make this a little hearty, add in the chopped shank meat and serve topped with chopped arugula.
INGREDIENTS – for the beans (you will only need three ladles full; cut the recipe in half if you have no other use for cooked cannellini beans, or freeze the rest for another time)
2 cups dry cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
6 cups water
2 larger carrots or 1/2 pack of ready-cut baby carrots
1 onion, ends and skin removed
2 bay leaves
1 TB olive oil
1 small, smoked ham shank
COOK – the beans
Put all the ingredients into the pot of a pressure cooker and cook on high heat for 24 minutes. When the steam valve has released, open the lid and test for doneness. You will want to stir briefly to bring the lower beans to the surface and vice versa. At this point, regardless of texture, go ahead and plop in the smoked ham shank. If the beans need a little more cooking, either continue to simmer or add a few more minutes of high heat pressure cooking.
When you are satisfied with the state of your bean’s texture, add salt, approximately 1-2 tsp (test the water for correct amount), juice of half lemon and 1 TB olive oil. Transfer to a bowl with a tight fitting lid. Let these sit overnight to allow the smokiness of the ham shank to permeate the beans. Be sure the beans are at room temperature before putting on the lid.
INGREDIENTS – for the soup
3 ladles full of cooked cannellini beans (liquid, carrot pieces and all)
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade) *or ham shank broth
1 tsp bitters (I use Urban Moonshine, original), plus more for seasoning
3 TB fresh lime juice, plus more for seasoning
Chopped ham from smoked shank, for garnish (optional)
*PUT THE HAM SHANK into a small saucepan and fill it with approximately 4 cups water. Let this simmer for at least one hour or more if you have time. This will make the shank meat nice and tender for the garnish. REMOVE THE MEAT from the bone and chop; set aside.
PUREE THE BEANS in a food processor and transfer to a pot. ADD the remaining ingredients to the pot and BRING TO A SIMMER. ADJUST THE SEASONING to your taste.
SERVE HOT (ladled over a pile of the chopped shank meat, if using). Squeeze over a wedge of lime and/or drop in more bitters, if you would like.
*In lieu of chicken stock, you could add one leek (cleaned and cut in half) to the cooking liquid for the shank and after it has simmered for an hour or two and become fragrant and flavorful, use this liquid for the soup. Since I was quick to the draw (hungry here, in my defense), this did not occur to me until after the fact (when I discovered just how delicious that cooking liquid was; beans are already chalked full of chicken stock and puréed). I will be saving mine for the next batch (I still have beans left, depleted of liquid, rinsed and tucked into the freezer).