I planned to make this ahead of time for Thanksgiving, and got as far as boiling the beans with two ham hocks on Monday. When you look at the recipe, you will not find ham hocks. but I couldn't remember what the meat element was when I was at the grocery store, so I bought ham hocks.
This time two years ago, I had never eaten a ham hock. As I move into the southern chapters of the cookbook I have been introduced to these smoked pigs' ankles and have become a fan. Ham hocks are particularly good in soup. They add a rich, meaty, smoked flavor to the beans.
I had the ham hocks, so I used the ham hocks. Feeling virtuous because I was getting a start on Thanksgiving dinner, I instructed Bob to take the soup off the heat in an hour and a half and went off to do something else. Bob dutifully turned off the beans, and they sat on the stove for two days because I was always doing something other than moving on to the next step.
Thursday afternoon, I got down to the soup. I had skipped a step by boiling the beans and not adding the onions, bacon and garlic. So I sauteed the onions and garlic with the bacon, scraped them and the spices into the beans, added a tad (maybe a cup) more water and recommenced boiling. After half an hour, the beans were ready to be run through the blender.
"Time to get soup all over the wall," I announced to Tim and my brother, who were watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and taste testing stuffing. In the past, I have painted the wall of the kitchen with a rainbow of different soups. I remember hot pumpkin soup going up like a perfect Vesuvius all over me and the wall under the horrified gazes of my children as I struggled not to spout a corresponding volcano of curses.
Years of doing this have taught me a few things. I don't fill the blender as full, and I don't get soup on the wall. Soup went from blender back into saucepan without adding to the decor. I took the ham hocks out and disposed of them. When I am making split pea soup, I cut the meat off the hocks, but not this time.
The soup was an enormous hit. Tim, an old Alabama boy, was fulsome in his praise. "This is superb," he said. Just for the record, Tim is always polite about what he eats, but he doesn't go nuts unless he really likes something.
This is a great soup for winter. Bean soup may not sound terribly elegant, but you could certainly serve this, dressed up with the chopped parsley and hard cooked egg, at a dinner party.
Louisiana Red Bean Soup
4 cups dried Louisiana red beans or kidney beans
1/2 pound lean slab bacon, without rind, cut into cubes
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon sage
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
tabasco sauce to taste
chopped hard cooked egg
1. Soak the beans overnight in water that extends one inch above their level. (I did not skip this step, although I often do. It probably shortened the cooking time.)
2. Next day, drain the beans and put them in a heavy kettle. Add three quarts of water and bring to a boil.
3. Cook the bacon in a skillet until most of the fast is rendered. Add the onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add the celery seeds and sage. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco and pour the mixture into the beans. Simmer the beans until they are very tender, two to two and one-half hours.
4. Let the beans cool and put them through a food mill or sieve or puree them, a little at a time, in an electric blender. If necessar, they may be thinned with a little broth or water. This soup will keep well in the refrigerator.
5. Heat the soup thoroughly and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and hard-cooked egg and if desired, garlic croutons. Makes three and one-half quarts, about one dozen servings.