Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Freezer Foraging!

Lousy weather yesterday led me to the freezer to see what I could come up with. Isn't it fun to see what treasures you can unearth? I came up with a gallon sized bag of beautiful roma tomatoes which had been halved and seeded. I purchased them from a local farmer last summer, most of them I turned into a yummy roasted marinara sauce which I canned. Also, there was a piece of Martha Stewart's ham (via Costco). We really aren't eating much meat, if any, these days, but I hated to toss it. Then, I raided the dry pantry for some beans. Here is what I came up with:

Tomato and White Bean Soup with Ham

3/4 cup dry great northern beans
4 cups pureed tomatoes, canned or fresh
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 carrots, scrubbed and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound finely diced ham
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
balsamic vinegar
parmesan cheese (optional)

Rinse and pick through the beans. Place beans in a saucepan, add very hot water to cover 2" and bring to a rapid boil. Boil 3 minutes then remove from heat and let stand 1 hour.

Since I was using the frozen tomatoes, I simmered them for 1 hour in a large saucier to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor. (if using canned tomatoes, skip this step) After about an hour or so, run the cooked tomatoes through a food mill. If you don't own one, run out and get one right away! It is a great tool to have in the kitchen.

While the beans soak and tomatoes simmer, time to chop and prep the veggies. First, split the leeks lengthwise, from just past the root end. Holding them upside down, give them a thorough rinse under running water. Set aside to dry, then chop the white and light green parts in about 1/2" strips. The carrots are diced, and the garlic minced (I like to do so with a pinch of sea salt). In a large soup pot, heat about 2 tbls. of good olive oil on medium heat. Add the leeks and carrots and saute at least 10-12 minutes, until the leeks soften.

The ham is added to the pot next, along with the garlic. Cook and stir for about 2-3 minutes. Then, add the pureed tomatoes, beans, bay leaf, and thyme. I tie a string around the thyme, makes it easier to fish it out at the end. Add salt and pepper to taste, bring to a simmer and cook covered for about 1 1/2 hours or until the beans have cooked. After that amount of time, I taste and add 1-2 tbl of balsamic vinegar, again to your liking and more salt or pepper if it needs it. Remove the bay leaf and thyme, ladle into bowls and top with a few shavings of good parmesan cheese. Great for a cold night! Makes about 12 cups.

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