When I was a kid and I would go to my grandmother's house (on my mother's side), we only ever ate two things. If I was there for lunch by myself, she would make grilled cheese sandwiches with a dill pickle on the side, and she'd serve tea in a gold teacup. It always made me feel special.
But if we came for dinner--which we only ever did a few times--she only made one thing: Pennsylvania Dutch ham, string bean and potato soup. I've never seen it on a menu anywhere (even in traditional restaurants) but it's something my kids all love. Eve even asks for it as her special birthday-dinner choice. It's fairly easy to make and makes a meal all by itself, especially if you make drop biscuits to go with it (which I'll share my recipe for in my blog on Friday).
It starts with ham hocks, which are the leg (or more accurately ankle) of a pig that's smoked. I try to always get organic ones, which means I find a local organic farmer or butcher and buy them directly, go to the local farmer's market, or, if all else fails, order them online from Heritagefoodsusa.com. Most often, they are frozen, but that's ok.
PA Dutch Ham, String Bean, and Potato Soup
1 ham hock
6 average-size potatoes
2 cups string beans
Salt and pepper to taste
Makes 4 to 5 servings
1. Put at least one ham hock in a stockpot and add about 10 cups of water (until the hock is covered). The more hocks you add, the more water you add. Cook on medium to low heat for HOURS. At minimum, two hours, at most, all day. As the water evaporates and the hock starts to fall apart, add more water if you need to. You want to end up with enough broth for at least four people to have a full serving.
2. When the broth seems done and the ham hock is falling apart, either strain the broth or remove the hock, and after it cools a bit, remove the meat from the hock and add it back into the soup. If you want to add lots of ham and make it a more meaty soup, add either cold ham cut off the bone or a ham steak cut into cubes.
3. Wash and clean (peel if you so desire) the potatoes, cube them, and put them into the simmering broth.
4. Add the string beans, too. (Traditionally, this soup used dried string beans, which have a stronger flavor and aren't required.)
5. Cook until the potatoes are done, and serve with drop biscuits or other crusty bread.
I think my grandmother added celery salt, but that's the kind of thing I can never find in an organic version, so I just skip it. If you want to add celery, you can, but don't get too creative because the Pennsylvania Dutch are notoriously resistant to new ideas! Definitely salt and pepper to taste (some ham hocks are saltier than others).
For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria's Farm Country Kitchen.