This satisfying Southern dish full of richly flavored stock, smoky pork, vegetables, and creamy white navy beans, came to me by way of a North Carolina chef who had ready access to both locally grown-vegetables and humanely-raised meats. My home cook version is a warming supper for chilly, stay-athome days. I start the stock first thing in the morning in order to have the navy beans in the oven for their bake by midday, filling the house with rich, smoky, mouth-watering aromas. By suppertime, no one needs to be called to the table—they’re all ready and waiting. Add a nice side dish of cooked greens to go along with if you like, and some crusty fresh bread for dunking.
FOR BEAN SOAK
2 cups dried navy beans
FOR HAM-HOCK STOCK
5 pounds pork ribs
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to rub into ribs
2 yellow onions, halved and sliced into strips to make 2 1/2 cups
4 carrots, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
2 bay leaves
3 smoked ham hocks, about 6 oz each
FOR BAKED NAVY BEANS
2 yellow onions, peeled, cored and diced small
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 lbs bone-in pork shoulder slices
Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper for shoulder slices
The Navy beans you soaked during the stock preparation
¼ pound (4 slices) applewood smoked bacon, left in strips
2 ham hocks, about 6 oz each
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
5 cups ham hock broth
SOAK BEANS: Place dried beans in a large glass bowl, rinse, and then cover with cool water to an inch above the beans. Soak while the ham-hock broth is being made.
MAKE HAM-HOCK BROTH: Preheat oven to 400 degrees with oven rack in center position. Rinse ribs in cold water. Pat dry and rub with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Place seasoned ribs on a half-sheet pan and sprinkle with the sliced onion. Place in oven and roast for 30 minutes. Remove. Once cool enough to handle, cut ribs apart and place with the onions in a 9-quart, heavy-bottomed stockpot. Scrape any meat juices and remnants from the roasting pan into the pot. Add carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay leaves, and ham hocks. Cover with cool water to within an inch of the top of the pot. Heat to boiling. Lower temperature and simmer for 4 hours. Strain into a colander, separating liquids from solids. Reserve the stock.
NOTE: If you like, dice some of the carrot and celery to add to the soup later; discard the rest. Much of the flavor from the meats will have cooked out into the stock, but if you like, you can save the meat from the ribs and the ham hocks for another use; otherwise, discard. (Ham-hock meat is great diced fine and mixed into grits, rice, polenta, or potato hash for another meal.)
MAKE BEANS: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat on your stovetop, heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and saute the onion until soft. Scoop onion into a large Dutch oven. Season pork shoulder slices with salt and pepper. Add remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil to the skillet and brown slices on both sides. Once browned, remove from heat; place in the Dutch oven. Drain the soaked navy beans.
Add beans to the Dutch oven along with strips of bacon, ham hocks, fresh thyme, bay leaves, and six cups of ham-hock stock. Reserve (either freeze or refrigerate) the remaining stock for another meal—it’s pure gold!
Place the Dutch oven over medium high heat on your stovetop; bring to a simmer. Give it a good stir, cover tightly, and place in your preheated 325 degree oven for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Pour contents into a large colander. Set ham hock broth to one side, keeping warm. Separate beans from the meat and set aside. When the meats are cool enough to handle, shred and coarsely chop meats. Mix meat with the beans in a large serving vessel. Taste and season accordingly.
To serve, either fill bowls with meat and beans and ladle a bit of the rich stock over each OR serve as soup, leaving meat/beans/stock together.