Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cannellini beans and ham hock

I chaired a panel discussion at the Chorleywood cookery festival with Jojo Tulloh (The Modern Peasant) and Ms Cupcake (a.k.a. Melissa Morgan, author of The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town). I’m sure I’ll get round to the making a vegan cake soon, but I’ve gone first for a rustic dish from Jojo’s book.

Here, slightly adapted, is her recipe (for 6), followed by a few comments about my experiences in cooking it.

200g dried cannellini beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 small onion or 2 small shallots, unpeeled
1 head garlic, unpeeled
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil
Handful flat-leaf parsley, freshly chopped

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Soak the ham hock too. Drain them when you are ready to start cooking.

Pre-heat the oven, if using, to gas mark 2/150C.

Put the beans into an ovenproof, heavy casserole. Add the onion, garlic and ham hock and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for two hours, either on the hob or (having brought the pan to a simmer first) in the oven.

Remove the ham hock and set aside to cool slightly. Remove the onion and garlic, and use a wide chopping knife to squeeze out the purée-like flesh from the skins. Grind the pulp in a mortar to a smooth paste, then add a little liquid from the casserole to create a creamy sauce, which you can return to the pan.

Cut off the skin from the hock and remove the meat, discarding fat and gristle.

Return the meat to the casserole and mix it in. Season to taste (you may not need much, or any, salt.) Your ideal is a mixture of creamy beans flecked with tender pink ham; if you have more ham than you need, reserve the extra for a hash or other recipe. Warm the stew, zigzag over a little olive oil, and scatter over the parsley.

As you may be able to see from the picture, I did not submerge my ham: to do so, I would have needed a good many litres of water, much of which I would have had to discard at the end. I used enough water to submerge the beans by about 2cms; even so, I had to boil the beans vigorously once I had removed the ham in order to thicken the stew.

The woman at the butcher told me that the ham hock was unsmoked, and did not need soaking. She misled me on both counts. It was pretty salty. I have suggested in the past that the notion that beans will not soften in salted water is a myth, and that instead they tend to become mealy rather than creamy; but my beans took a long time to soften.

I followed Jojo’s quantities, but used all the ham. The dish served 3.

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