I still have ham left over from Christmas.
In a characteristically excessive move, I procured a 9.7 kilo leg of beautifully cured ham for our very small Christmas gathering*, which I glazed with quince paste and cardamom and green ginger wine and lovingly studded with approximately twelve million cloves. We ate ham everyday for two weeks. And then I carved up the remaining five kilos, and packaged the slices and chunks and bones away in the freezer, dreaming of mid-winter pea-and-ham soups and ham and leek soufflés.
I don’t like waste. I ferret away kitchen scapes and old bones for stock. My freezer contains little zip lock bags of everything from stale bread crumbs to off cuts of potato and kohlrabi to a chicken carcass to prawn heads. You never know what you might need. Of course it’s frugal: throwing away food is the same as throwing away money. It’s also partly a political stance: when we waste food we are saying that the time and effort put into growing and rearing our food is disposable**. And it is so satisfying to make something delicious out of food that would otherwise be assigned to the trash.
Think of it as 3D Tetris for your tastebuds.
Ham. Diced carrot off-cuts. The first of this year’s tomato passata. Half an onion in the fridge. Celery. Celery powder. Half a bulb of fennel. Stolen rosemary. Tinned cannellini beans. Now I love baked beans. Not the sticky sweet navy-beans-in-tomato-sauce you can buy in a tin (although, to be fair, those bad boys are pretty healthy, providing you buy the low salt/low sugar brands). The old-school home-made kind, chunky and spicy and packed full of vegetables. It is my measure of a good breakfast cafe, the calibre of their ‘house-made beans’. And baked beans are precisely what the contents of my freezer suggests. All it needs it a little time to braise.
Best Christmas present ever.
* In addition to a two kilo turkey buff, and two chickens. Not to mention potato salad and zucchini and green bean salad with pangratto, and steamed carrots and four loaves of bread and roasted baby beatroots. For eight people. I have issues.
** You could argue that rather than saving money by not wasting food, we should just buy more food so that farmers are better recompensed. I say, let’s pay more money for food, thus better remunerating farmers and incentivising us consumers not to waste it. Food is way too cheap.
Rustic baked beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced 2 red chillies, minced (optional)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
¼ ground all spice
2 tsp sweet paprika
6 very ripe tomatoes, diced (or 2 cups passata or 2 tins crushed tomatoes)
Sprig rosemary. Or thyme. Or oregano. Whatever you grow/can steal.
300 gm thick chunks ham (or a bit of ham bone or smoked pork hock or similar. Or leave out, just as good).
2 tins cannellini beans (or your favourite beans, butter beans are good. So are kidney beans.)
Saute the onions, garlic and vegetables (except tomatoes) in a large heavy based saucepan until soft, this will take about ten minutes. Add the spices, toast for about 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, fresh herbs and ham.
Bring to a simmer (add as little water if a bit dry) and cook for about half an hour to an hour, until thick and all the flavours are infused. Taste, and add salt if necessary.
Gently stir through the drained tinned beans (feel free to soak dried ones over night, I just love the convenience of tinned ones) and heat through.
Finish off with masses of fresh chopped parsley and a teaspoon of powdered celery leaves.
Serve over grilled polenta or thick sourdough toast. Soft yolked organic poached egg makes this transcendent.