Jenny is in perpetual search for easy, weeknight recipes to attempt to feed her family. When they balk, she just eats more.
When I discovered that a daddy longlegs spider had apparently lived a long and productive life among the crickets and mismatched socks in my basement, only to die in the lid of my crock pot, I took it as a sign that I should return to some slow cooking.
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I have lamented in this space before about my failure to adequately use my crock pot, and others have raised skeptical voices about the real utility of this old-school piece of equipment. It’s true that braising generally yields more flavor, and that most one-pot meals, like Pasta Fagioli - Hearty Bean Soup can be made in a pot on the stove.
But I have adopted this recipe for the crock pot for one central reason, which is the reason most people embrace crock pots, because it can do your work for you while you do work for others, which may or may not include asking Senator Joe Lieberman to explore his feelings about retirement.
The key to this recipe is the under-appreciated ham hock, which provides such a wonderfully smoky, meaty, rounded edge to the dish. The vegetables and beans combine to form that heartiness of the dish, together forming a meal in a single bowl, often the week night cook’s most precious goal.
If you want to make this dish as written on the stove, go forward. If you want to do it in a crock pot, as I did, here are a few tips:
1.I have a standard-sized slow cooker, and there was nowhere near enough room for all those beans; I ended up fishing out about 2.5 cups of them, sadly losing an onion piece and bit of herbs along the way. Reduce the amount of beans unless you have a large crock pot.
2.A cheese rind makes this better, but it will be plenty delicious without one, so don’t wait to have one on hand to make this.
3.I had a ton of fresh thyme left in my garden so I threw that in. If you have fresh herbs, use them.
4.Broth yes, if you have it. I used chicken.
5.Pasta no, if you don’t feel like it. The beans are plenty of starch and heft on their own.
2 bags of dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, diced 2 ribs celery, diced 2 carrots, chopped in large chunks 1 leftover ham bone or 2 ham hocks 12 cups water 2 cups less if using broth 1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano (or can use fresh herbs) 1 bay leaf 1 pinch red pepper flakes 1 can whole tomatoes and juice, rough chopped 1/2 pound or more of tubetti pasta 1 cheese rind, optional 2 cups beef broth, optional 1 cup chicken broth, optional 2 cups Greens of your choice, Swiss chard, kale, or spinach, sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Add to just about finished soup
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).