Slow-cooker Ham and Navy Bean Soup follows the “Throw-beans-and-veggies-into-the-crockpot” strategy. Once you master the basic recipe, you can adapt it to make other types of soup. Cuban Black Bean Soup? Sure!! You only need to adjust the types of seasonings, use black beans instead of navy, and maybe top it with avocado and sour cream rather than parsley and cheese. Or use Indian spices and lentils, and serve with some naan bread. See how easy this is?!
Lately, my prep for slow-cooker ham and navy bean soup has gone along these lines: I do a quick sauté of mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) to build flavor. I frequently add several dashes of fish sauce. (Yes, really. You don’t taste fish, just umami. Trust me.) I let the fish sauce reduce, and then add some tomato paste, stirring it in well and letting it caramelize slightly before deglazing with some white wine. Then I pour the whole shebang into my stalwart slow-cooker, add the beans, cover them with liquid, add herbs and some S & P, and float in a couple of ham hocks.
I set the slow-cooker on low, and away I go to do whatever it is that I’m doing.
I check my slow-cooker ham and navy bean soup whenever I get home, first, to be sure that there’s adequate liquid, and second, to assess the seasoning level. I take out the ham hocks, pull off any meat, and add it back to the soup. NOTE: if you like a creamier soup, you can briefly buzz an immersion blender through the crock-pot before adding the meat back (I suggest not completely blending the soup, unless you prefer it to be totally smooth).
At this point, I frequently add in some chopped savoy cabbage or some seasonal vegetables like squash or green beans. I let the soup continue to cook until the veggies are softened, and then serve topped with cheese and parsley, with a hunk of crusty bread on the side.
Slow-cooker Ham and Navy Bean Soup is pure deliciousness. It’s a favorite in the Frank family: Phil even asks for it in the middle of the summer. Even better: the soup freezes really well, so you can pull it out on nights when you’re super-busy or don’t have a plan for dinner. Believe me, this strategy has saved my tuckus more than once.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 3 medium carrots peeled and chopped into small cubes
- 3 stalks of celery cut into small cubes
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 lb. of navy beans rinsed and carefully picked through to remove rocks
- Approx. 2 quarts of liquid: this can be water or vegetable beef, or
- chicken stock—or a mix should cover your beans, plus an extra 2-3” above the top
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce
- 2 smoked ham hocks or 1/2 lb. of smoked ham (optional)
- 1 large piece of parmesan rind optional
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or Herbs de Provence optional
- 2 generous pinches of salt plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup parsley chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- OPTIONAL ADDITIONS:
- 1 cup of savoy cabbage shredded
- 3 Yukon gold potatoes peeled and cut into small cubes
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the celery, carrots, and onions. Sauté until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and bay leaves; sauté for an additional minute. Add the fish sauce, if using, and sauté for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits (fond) on the bottom. Add the mixture to your slow-cooker along with your beans. Add your cooking liquid, salt, and herbs. Make sure that the liquid covers the beans by 2-3”. Add the ham hocks and cheese rind (if using). Cover the slow cooker and set on low. Now go to work, or do whatever you need to do! When you come back (~6 hours, but more won’t hurt!), your beans will be tender. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove the ham hocks and cheese rind, if using. If you’d like to purée your soup, you can do so now (I sometimes just buzz an immersion blender through the slow-cooker a few times: the soup will still be chunky, but it will have a thicker consistency). Pull the meat off of the hocks, chop roughly, and add back to the soup. Serve with chopped parsley, grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, and plenty of fresh-ground black pepper.
Optional vegetables: add 1 hour before the end of your cook time.