It wasn’t my intention to write a post about a bean that you’ll have difficulty locating — the Four Corners Gold bean — also known as Zuni Gold. Fortunately, this soup can be made with almost any type of dried bean, heirloom or not, but it does illustrate the perils of heirloom seeds, and why we want to save them.
I purchased these gorgeous gold beans in Tucson, at the non-profit Native Seeds /SEARCH store about a year ago and now they’re no longer available. I set out to find more information about them and very little exists. One source says that they were cultivated by the Zuni tribes that populated the Four Corners region (AZ-UT-CO-NM).
So I searched for Zuni Gold beans and found another source: Kokopelli’s Kitchen. In fact, I found them under the “hard-to-find Southwestern ingredients.” Owner Cheryl Joseph says the beans come from southwestern Colorado and this year’s crop will be small, but she has just over 40 pounds in stock.
Frankly, the number of heirloom bean varieties is mind-boggling, and several organizations (both for-profit and not-for-profit) sell a plethora of rare bean varieties.
Besides Native Seeds/SEARCH, the non-profit Seed Savers has a nice collection of heirlooms, as does Rancho Gordo and Zürsun Idaho Heirloom. You’ll likely find heirloom beans at farmers markets, too. I recently saw some yellow-eyed Steubens at my local farmers market.
For this simple bean soup, you really can use any type of bean you want, but I encourage you to try an heirloom variety just to broaden your bean repertoire.
This basic soup recipe is full of flavor, thanks to aromatics like onions and garlic and a healthy dose of dried herbs.
It’s smoky, too, thanks to a slow simmer with a smoked ham shank, and even a little creamy, thanks to a technique the French call garbure [gar-BOOR], which means a portion of the soup is pureed and added back to the soup to thicken it, making it almost stew-like. (Garbure also refers to a specific soup that originated in the Basque region.)
As with most soups, it tastes even better the second day, but don’t let that stop you from spooning out a bowl as soon as it’s made.
Hearty, comforting, delicious.
Heirloom Bean Soup
Serves 6 to 8
1 pound dried heirloom beans (or try Cranberry or Cannellini)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 3 cups)
3 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch rounds (about 1-1/2 cups)
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1-1/2 cups)
3 to 4 large cloves of garlic, minced (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs mix
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 smoked ham shank (about 1 to 1-1/4 pounds)
8 cups water
Garnish with fresh grated Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves
Soak the beans overnight or by using the quick-soak method (cover with water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour.) Drain and rinse beans before continuing.
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir in onion, carrots, celery, garlic, herbs, and both peppers. Saute for a minute or so, just until the vegetables are coated with oil and the garlic is fragrant but not browned.
Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot along with the ham shank. Pour in the water. (The shank may not be completely submerged, but only a sliver of the top should be exposed. Add a cup more of water if necessary.)
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a good simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until the beans are almost soft but still offer just the slightest resistance when bitten. (Some bean varieties cook a little quicker, so use the texture of the bean as your guide.)
Remove the ham shank and let it cool slightly, while continuing to simmer the beans. When the shank is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bone, removing fat and gristle. Cut or tear the meat into small bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Cook the beans until they are completely soft (no resistance when bitten) but still retain their shape. Total cooking time might be 2 hours, give or take a half hour.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop out about a cup of the beans into a blender. Add enough bean soup liquid to puree the beans to a consistency between heavy cream and sour cream. Pour the pureed beans back into the soup pot and stir. Add the reserved ham pieces and cook long enough to reheat the cooled ham.
Taste the soup and add salt if desired (the shank is quite salty, so you may not need to add any salt).
Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh grated Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves.