Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Call Me Hambone

Apparently I've gained a reputation as the soup guy in our family. As we were preparing to decamp from Easter dinner and as parting gifts were being distributed, brother-in-law Barry produced the bone from the buffet ham. With a certain glint in his eye, Barry looked in my direction. Would I consider accepting this prize?

Have I ever said no to a ham bone?

Normally the cured remains of the pork joint would sit a while in our refrigerator while I considered my options. But I had recently been digging through our pantry and discovered a huge bag of French lentils. It came tumbling out of a basket of spices I keep in there (one of my many failings is my lack of organiztion in the spice department--they've outgrown their shelf in the spice cabinet).

I decided to make this an all-lentil soup. To accompany the Puy lentils I opened a bag of Indian dal, or yellow lentils. I knew that if these particular legumes remained true to form, the yellow dal would dissolve into the soup and become background for the French lentils, which always seem to retain their shape and some texture no matter how long you cook them.

Into the pot went a large yellow onion, diced small, with about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Next add three medium carrots, peeled and diced small. Cook the vegetables until the onions begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Nestle the ham bone down in the vegetables and add 1 cup each of the Puy and yellow lentils. (In fact, I did not measure, but I believe these are the correct quantities.) Toss in 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme and 2 bay leaves, then pour in enough water to cover the ham bone, about 8 cups.

Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 4 hours, or until the meat is falling off the ham bone. We ate a bowl for dinner last night and the soup was just thin enough to please my wife. She prefers her legume soups on the thin side, as opposed to library paste. You can jazz this soup up a bit, if you like, by garnishing it with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

This soup also makes an excellent breakfast. But something happens to these sorts of soups when you leave them out overnight. They become thicker. Even after reheating, the soup had more of a stew-like consistency than the night before. I don't know if there is somehting about the starches in the legumes that thickens it in the night. But if it becomes too thick for your taste, just add a little water.

I know this soup will sound very familiar to some readers who may remember me making a pantry soup not long ago with lentils, split peas and a ham bone. To that I can only say that Gertrude Stein had it about right: things improve with repetition. Make this soup and I am betting you will feel as I do that it is far and away better than the one you made the last time.


Joanna said...

What a terrific present - I don't suppose any of the other leaving gifts were half as good as yours.

That repetition thing, so true. And the lentil soup with more than one type of lentil ... I've started doing that, was it your post that gave me the idea? or another place? even a book? Not sure, but in my case the repetition caused the action.

Sounds like you all had a good Easter


rhino writer said...

Yum ... that sounds delish. I've been obesssed with split pea soup this winter, for the first time ever, and have been thinking about expanding my repertoire to lentils. Maybe some post-Easter hams will be on sale at the supermarket this week and I can try it!

David Hall said...

Ham bones leave the most delicious gelatinous stock behind so the perfect addition to a soup. Great stuff.


Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, I hope all my friends learn to give me their bones. Think how much easier that would be!

RW, I would be looking right past the ham part to the soup part. Enjoy...

David, I am very keen to find a source for local ham so I can sample the local ham bone. The one I describe here is more the supermarket variety, or industrial pork as we like to call it now. But I am always impressed by the flavor, especially with the lentils. This morning I heated the pot and the aroma filled the whole house.