Ham and Bean Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped carrot
1 tsp. dried thyme
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lbs. smoked ham hocks
1 lb. dried Great Northern beans
7 cups low-sodium or no-salt chicken stock
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to the skillet. Add onion, celery, carrot and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes or until almost tender. Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Scrape onion mixture into a 6-quart slow cooker. Add ham hocks, beans and stock. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours.
Remove the ham hocks from the slow cooker; cool slightly. remove meat from bones; discard fat, skin and bones. Chop the meat and return it to the slow cooker. Add black pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Serve.

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