When life gives you leftover pork chops, make this wonderfully silky and rich soup. I have actually made this soup twice: once with the addition of leftover pork chops and once with the recipe as is (except without carrots as I didn’t have any on hand.) Both had wonderful results. But the addition of leftover pork chops (or any leftover pork you have) adds another dimension of flavor and umph. The soup becomes a meal in itself. I ended up topping each bowl of soup with some grated parmesan which added even more richness and bite. Super delicious.
I started by soaking the beans overnight. Please don’t skip this step and substitute canned beans. Here’s why. When you cook with dried beans that have been soaked, they still have a lot of firmness to them. As they cook in the soup and soften, they release their starch–which thickens the soup.
After chopping thick bacon into lardons, I placed them in a lightly olive oiled cast iron pot. Once browned, I removed the bacon and let it drain on paper towels and set all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat aside. Don’t throw that away! You’ll add some to the soup later. You will still have some leftover fat–I recommend letting it cool slightly, pouring it into a glass jar or old coffee can, and storing it in the fridge. It’s great cooking fat for potatoes, among other things.
Into the 2 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan, add the chopped celery, onion, carrot, garlic, and herbs. Make sure you stir well with a wooden spoon, scraping up all of the browned bits from the bacon at the bottom of the pan. Browned bits are full of flavor! After all of the veggies are soft, nestle in the leftover pork if you’re adding it. If you have bones on your chops, make sure you add them too. Add the beans, chicken stock, and a few teaspoons of the reserved bacon fat to the pot and increase temperature to high to get the mix boiling.
After the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook away. I didn’t add all of the chicken stock at once, rather, I added it as the soup simmered along. After about an hour on the stove, I did the “5 bean test.” The 5 bean test is when you taste 5 beans from the pot. Why 5? To be sure that all of the beans are cooked through and tender, you need to try a bunch. Sometimes only a few may be ready, while others need more time. The soup I was making was ready by then (vs. the full hour and a half as called in the recipe.) I had smaller white beans on hand–where the recipe called for Great Northern, which are bigger, and thus require more cooking time. Once the beans were tender, I removed the pork chops from the pot. I shredded the meat with two forks, mixed the meat back into the soup, and then discarded the bones.
I ladled the soup into bowls and topped with the reserved bacon bits and grated parmesan cheese. The cheese gave it this added dimension of flavor–a salty bite. All together, so simple, so rich. What a lovely soup.
White Bean, Bacon, and Pork Soup with Thyme
very slightly adapted from Food & Wine‘s White-Bean Soup with Bacon and Herbs
1 1/4 pounds thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 celery ribs, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh bay leaf
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1 pound Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and drained
10 cups chicken stock (Note: I found that my leftover soup became quite thick, and I needed to add additional stock for serving.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional: leftover pork chops, on the bone
Optional: grated parmesan, for garnish
1. In a large soup pot, cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Drain, reserving the fat and bacon separately.
2. Heat the olive oil in the soup pot. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, bay leaf and 1 teaspoon each of the chopped thyme and rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. If using leftover pork chops, add them whole to the pot. Cook 2 minutes. Add the drained beans, stock and 3 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat and bring to a boil. Simmer the soup over moderately low heat until the beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
3. Discard the bay leaf and stir in the remaining thyme and rosemary. Season the soup with salt and pepper and transfer to shallow bowls. Garnish the soup with the bacon, grate parmesan, and serve.
The soup and bacon can be refrigerated separately for up to 3 days. Recrisp the bacon before serving.