12.29.09 Brass Monkeys

Beans 790 xxx
photo by george billard
As in, cold enough to freeze the balls off 'em. Love that British expression. Somehow a bit classier than the old witch's teat reference, still hanging on from the days of the Salem trials. My point being: it was damn cold today. We were out snow-shoeing in 13 degrees. I have a deep dread of slipping on the ice, but those metal teeth really do grip into even the slickest surfaces. Realized that the large and interesting tracks we had seen the other day and were sure were from a bear turned out to be our own. How embarrassing. Now I'm finally convinced that the bears are hibernating and so I can stop imagining Werner Herzog-worthy scenarios where one chases me into a snowdrift and mauls G who has run to my defense. Tromping on crusted snow, I could almost see the North Wind puffing out his cheeks and blowing an icy blast our way. It sent the delicate top layer of powder gusting through the air, like a frigid version of the apocalyptic ash that's always drifting down in Cormack McCarthy's brilliant The Road. (Read the book; skip the movie. Sorry, Viggo.)

It takes a lot of layers to stay warm in 13 degrees, even when you're huffing and puffing up three monster hills. (Thank you, Patagonia.) So nice to have a civilized cup of Earl Grey in a thermos when you reach the halfway mark. (Thank you, G.) With such grueling workouts, I thought by now I would be dropping pounds left and right but no such luck. Could it be the hundreds of homemade caramels I have consumed? Or perhaps the chocolate-coated pumpkin seed brittle from Jacques Torres, the Dark Prince? Is bourbon fattening? (I'm terrible at dieting but foresee a new year of healthy hot pots and Tracy Anderson DVDs.) Still, two hours of snow-shoeing works up a healthy appetite. Good thing we came home to something bubbling on the stove.

Usually when I make beans, I like to throw in a meaty smoked ham hock. Lately, I thought it might be nice to try a smoked turkey wing instead—but I can't find any from humanely raised birds. They didn't have any hocks on my recent trip to Dickson's Farmstand, but they offered me a chewy, fatty "ham end" (just what it sounds like) and it was delicious in this pot of lima beans. My beans were a heritage variety that I got up the road at River Brook Farm, but you could probably make this recipe with any old limas, or any other medium-sized white bean, for that matter. I like my beans without so much liquid, more a stew than a soup, but you can always add more stock. A drizzle of the parsley-rosemary pistou adds a note of brightness, so do take the extra 5 minutes to whip it up.

Lima Bean & Ham Stew with Parsley-Rosemary Pistou

serves 4 (or 2 1/2 ravenous snow-shoers)
  • — 2 cups dried lima beans
  • — 1 smoked ham hock (or meaty ham end roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
  • — 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • — 2 shallots, diced
  • — 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • — 2 bay leaves
  • — small handfull peppercorns (about 12)
  • — 7 juniper berries
  • — 1 quart vegetable stock
  • salt to taste

Soak lima beans overnight covered amply in cold water. Or cover with boiling water and soak for about 4 hours.

Discard soaking water from beans. In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil and sauté shallots and garlic until lightly browned. Add bay leaves, peppercorns and juniper berries, stirring to coat.

Pour in stock and bring briefly to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until beans are soft, about 1 hour. (Time may vary depending on your beans.)

For a soupier consistency, add more stock as it begins to be absorbed. You may need to add a bit of salt, if your ham did not impart enough. If using a hock, pluck it out, slip the meat off and return to the pot, discarding bone and fat. Serve beans with a couple of spoonfuls of parsley-rosemary pistou (recipe below).

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Parsley-Rosemary Pistou

makes about 3/4 cup
  • — 1 cup flat leaf parsely, densely packed
  • — 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, de-stemmed
  • — 1 heaping tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • — 1 clove garlic
  • — 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • — 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • — 2/3 cup olive oil
  • — 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Pulse the parsley, rosemary, pine nuts, garlic, salt, zest and oil in a blender or food processor. Leave it a little chunky. Stir in the cheese. It should have the consistency of a loose pesto. Can be stored in the fridge for several days.

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OK, I'm ready to make the Lima Bean/Ham Stew but where will I find "juniper berries"? Everything else we can purchase. The photos look delicious, are you sure we can't just dip in with our spoon from the photo instead of slaving over the stove??? Enjoy the wefsite, it'll be on my daily list to read!
Vivian on December 30, 2009 at 9:04 am —
Welcome, Vivian! No worries--it'll still be delicious without the juniper berries. Let me know how it turns out.
laura on December 30, 2009 at 9:12 am —
We have been tearing through our recipe collections looking for winter soups and stews -- S. is baking a bread and cabbage soup right now -- and your suggestion has just moved to the top of our list. Finished The Road, by the way (thank you!), and relished it. Impressive how it makes your teeth ache for a hot can of beans.
Seth on January 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm —