The story of stone soup is a great story of cooperation: it teaches us that just a handful of shared ingredients can be transformed into a feast. But it also teaches us that nearly anything can be turned into soup — even a stone, a nail, a discarded bone. Soup can begin anywhere; we've shown you how to make soup from literally any vegetable, for instance (once you know that method, you'll never need a vegetable soup recipe again).
This recipe, from Melissa Clark's new book, takes the stone soup idea and stretches it out, starting with the bone discarded from a ham. It doesn't look like much but it's full of rich marrow, which infuses the soup with flavor. It's the most comforting thing I've eaten all week!
The story of stone soup goes like this: Two footsore soldiers (or tramps, or a monk, depending on who's telling the story, and where) stumble into into a small town bringing nothing more than a cooking pot slung over a shoulder. They ask for food but are turned down. Times are tough and resources scarce.
So the hungry men play a sharing trick. They fill their pot with water, set it over a fire, and toss in a cobblestone (or a nail, or a button). As the villagers inquire about their strange culinary style, the men cheerily insist that they're making stone soup — they just need a little garnish. It doesn't seem like too much after all to donate a sprig of parsley, a withered potato or two, a few handfuls of beans, and so the villagers make soup after all — all together, bit by bit.
Soup can begin anywhere, and sharing can lead to a feast, even in the midst of scarcity.
In this case, we're starting with a bone, not a stone, and the stingy villagers are represented by your own pantry — which may be bare, as mine has been lately. You may have to scrounge in order to add a few more things to the bone and its pot of water — carrots (mine were at the bottom of the fridge drawer, weeks old and bearded), dried beans (from a dusty jar in my kitchen), and kale (the last leaves pulled from my garden, chewed into lace by some pest) — but all of these ingredients, not too much to look at on their own, pulled out of scarcity in some cases, turn into the most unctuous, tasty soup I've had in a long time.
The beans are creamy; the kale tender. The cabbage melts into something delicate and delicious. It's a brothy, meaty soup, with bits of pork that slipped off the bone, and spoonfuls of vegetables full of flavor.
This is stone soup at its finest. You don't need the best ingredients; you don't need a perfect plan. It all comes together, warms your kitchen, and nourishes your belly. And if you share it with someone else then you'll truly have made stone soup, start to finish.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the fact that this recipe comes from Melissa's new book: Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make. It's a delightful collection of homey recipes spiced up just enough to be interesting, and simple enough for any time. She organizes the book by month, and this soup is appropriately in the November chapter. Other recipes for right now include Coconut Fudge Brownies, Garlicky Broccoli Rabe, and a butternut squash risotto with pistachios and lemon. (Uh, hello.) There's Honey Whole Wheat Cornbread and Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread.
Melissa seems to have a genius for devising recipes I just want to make right now, and this book is no different. It's also a great book for learning to cook without recipes and to take chances in the kitchen, since she follows every recipe with "What Else?" — a column of notes and suggestions for changes, substitutions, adaptations. It helped me here, since I couldn't find a true ham bone, and used pork shank instead. Not a problem, she said — and it certainly wasn't.
There are inserts with photos too; it's a treat to see more of the dishes in full color, and some peeks at Melissa and her daughter Dahlia. Pick this one up — you'll love it.
I've made ham hock soup, I've made bacon soup, and I've made soup with a diced up pigs' ear. But I doubt if I would have ever made ham bone soup if I hadn't taken a liking to the name, which I spotted while flipping through an old Junior League cookbook one day. The soup sounded so...well, bare bones, which intrigued me as I imagined a pot swirling with nothing but water and several cartoon-ish white bones in it, the bony version of stone soup.
And just as stone soup is actually made of vegetables, so is ham bone soup. Most recipes call for beans, greens, onions, carrots — ingredients that would make any soup taste good, with or without the bones and stones.
However, unlike the stone in stone soup, which adds nothing to the vegetables in the pot, the ham bone makes the soup. It not only benefits from the bone's meaty, smoky flavor, but the broth gains body and richness from all the luscious marrow.
It's an excellent soup, flavorful, rich, easy to make, and filled with tender beans and an array of seasonal vegetables that you can vary with what's available. But no matter what you do, strive to include the cabbage, which, cooked for almost an hour, softens into translucent, marrow-imbued bits that melt on the tongue.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 cup dried pinto beans 4 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 3 large carrots, peeled and diced 2 celery stalks, trimmed and diced 1 large onion, peeled and diced 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 ham bone (1 1/4 pounds), cut into half or thirds (ask your butcher to do this for you) 1 bay leaf 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus additional to taste 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded (about 8 cups) 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped into bite-sized pieces Freshly ground black pepper to taste Hot sauce or cider vinegar, for serving
1. Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight. If you don't have that much time, you can use the quick soak method: In a large pot, bring the beans and plenty of cold water to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the beans.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and save for garnishing the soup. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the bacon fat in the pan. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
3. Drop in the ham bone and bay leaf into the pot and add 8 cups water and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat; add beans, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the cabbage and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in the kale and simmer until the kale is soft, but still vibrantly green, about 15 minutes. If you're like me, you'll want to remove the meat and delicious fatty bits from the ham bone, chop them up, and stir them back into the soup. Season with pepper, a dash of hot sauce or vinegar, and more salt, if needed. Crumble the reserved bacon on top.
What Else? • If you don't see ham bones in your butcher's case, just ask; they will most likely have them stashed in the back. Ask your butcher to cut the bone in half or into thirds for you so it will easily fit it into your pot. Plus cutting through the bone exposes all the good, rich marrow, allowing it to seep into the broth to give it a silky body and incomparable richness.
• Ham bone is my number one choice for this soup, but I've made it with ham hocks, smoked pork shanks, and other various smoked pork bits on offer at the farmer's market. You could probably make it with smoked turkey necks or wings too, though obviously the flavor will be different.
• If you want to make this soup without having to track down smoked pork parts, you can. Use the bacon as called for, then substitute chicken broth for the water. It will have great flavor if less body.
• If you want to substitute canned beans, give them a good rinse, then add them along with the cabbage. You will need about 2 cans (3 cups).
• Speaking of beans, I made this with all different kinds of beans before I decided that I loved the creaminess of pintos best against the brawny pork flavor. But it doesn't really matter what kind of beans you use so long as you like them.
• I can never get enough of kale, but collards, Swiss chard, or spinach (add it during the last five minutes of cooking) would be tasty in its place.