Yellow Eyes and Ham Hocks
So often when I'm at the farmers market I suggest that my customers cook the beans simply. They often nod in agreement and say "I'll just add a ham hock." This normally makes my heart sink a little . The real glory of heirloom bean varieties is their flavor. A smoked ham hock is full of old fashioned goodness, I'm sure, but it's completely unnecessary with most of the varieties we grow. I love pork and I like a lot of smoked things (although I am beginning to tire of everything being smoked) but in general I suggest saving it for something else or as an occasional change. My turn for a change came the other night. If there is one bean that belongs with a ham hock it's the Yellow Eye. It's wonderful on it's own but the pork is a natural partner, whether it's leftover ham, a ham hock or a ham shank. One taste and for me it's pure nostalgia for a type of cooking my mother rarely did. My ham hock came from The Fatted Calf. To make the beans, add soaked beans to a large pot. The add chopped aromatics like garlic, onion, celery and/or carrot. Finally add the ham hock. Bring to a hard boil for about 2 or 3 minutes and then reduce to low. I used soaked beans and they cooked in just over an hour, but budget for two hours. When the beans are soft, remove the ham hock and salt the beans, testing as you go as some ham hocks are very salty. Remove and discard the fat from the ham hock and then chop up any meat and return it to the pot. I add the bone back for good measure. The beans are smoky and delicious and incredibly rich from the pork fat that renders from the ham hock. If you want a creamier pot, remove a cup, blend it and then add it back to the pot.