Thursday 13 November 2014

Hambone soup (with Butternut Squash and Kale)

Much to my dismay, winter is swiftly approaching and the weather is getting colder in these parts. Some people enjoy winter. I am typically not one of them. One positive side to the colder months is that it does provoke some hearty, comforting, warm dishes in the kitchen. Soup is a popular winter item and nothing quite beats a homemade soup from scratch. Making soup is also a great way of using seasonal produce and really getting to enjoy ingredients at their best. Most vegetables that are at their peak now are fantastic in soups. 

You may recall that I auditioned for season 2 of MasterChef Canada last summer. My audition dish was a play on ham and pineapple. While at my butcher shop, acquiring such a piece of ham for my dish, I was given a complimentary hambone (pays to get along with your butcher). A whole ham is essentially part of a pig's leg that's been smoked or cured. I was given the part of the bone in the ham where the leg connected to the hip bone (plus a good amount of meat still attached to the bone). Bones, especially ones that have been roasted or smoked, make a fantastic stock. If you can get a bone from an animal (or the exoskeleton of say, shrimp or lobster) you can make a stock from it. I had only ever made stock from chicken and turkey bones before. This was my first time making a pork based stock for the soup. The ham I used had been smoked so the meat and the bones had taken on a very savoury, smoky flavour. It lent itself beautifully in this soup. 

While you may not be able to get it for free, you will probably be able to get bones from a butcher. On the off chance that they don't have any on hand they can certainly arrange to get you some. Obviously I used a hambone in this case but just about anything else will work. This exact recipe would still be great with a chicken carcass or a beef bone. Just remember that roasting or smoking the bones first will add such a depth of flavour. Since my hambone had actual ham on it, I was able to shred it up and add it to my soup. There's a bonus if you can get bones with scraps of meat still attached.

To my smoky ham soup I decided to use some seasonal autumn veggies. I used some butternut squash and kale to make a perfect trio out of my solo ham. Although they are readily available all year, onion and garlic are at their peak in the fall and they're both in this soup too. If you're familiar with my food it should come as no surprise that I like it spicy so I used two habanero peppers that I got my hands on. Adjust the peppers to your taste in any savory recipe. You may choose different chili peppers, include none at all or much more than I did. Just remember that you can decrease a lot of the heat (and thereby increase the actual flavour) of a chili pepper by removing the seeds and the inner membrane. Another trick you can try is adding a pepper or two whole and removing them before serving. By keeping the pepper in tact, you can add the natural flavour of the pepper to your soup with very little of the heat.   


1 hambone
1/2 butternut squash, seeded and diced
3 handfuls kale, thinly sliced
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 habanero peppers, seeded and minced (optional or to taste)
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil

Quite obviously, you will need a hambone. This is a photo of the one I used. As you can see it is a bone with a generous amount of ham still attached. It had been in my freezer since July so I made sure to thaw it completely before continuing with the recipe.

In a stock pot or dutch oven, warm 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion with some salt and pepper. Sautée for 4 or 5 minutes to soften them up. 

Add the sliced garlic and habanero peppers. Sautée for an additional 2 minutes or so. 

Add the butternut squash and stir occasionally for another 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the thyme and the bay leaves just before adding the hambone to the sautéed vegetables.

Fill the pot with hot water. It should completely cover the hambone and veggies. In my case it took about six cups but if you're using a larger pot you could go up to eight cups. Increase the heat to the highest setting. Just as the soup comes to a boil, decrease the heat to low and let it simmer for an hour to an hour and a half. 

As it cooks, impurities will float the top (in the form of foam) as well as fat from the meat (oily slicks that will form, usually around the sides). Use a spoon to skim off any foam or fat as the soup cooks. During this time the flavours will build and build creating a delicious soup. The soup will also evaporate a bit as it cooks so top it off with more hot water as required.

When your 60-90 minutes are up, fish the hambone out of the soup and set it on a cutting board.

Use a knife and a fork to remove the meat from the bone and shred up the ham.

Discard the bone and add the shredded ham back to the pot of soup.

Skim away any foam or fat at this stage before adding the kale to the soup.

The kale will take no longer than a minute to wilt. Then all you need to do is season to taste with pepper and a generous amount of salt then serve.

I am telling you guys that salty, smoky ham simmered with the subtle sweetness of the squash with the earthy bitterness of the kale make a fantastic combination. Because there is so much in the soup, it eats like a whole meal. It's simple, satisfying, colourful, healthy and it even freezes well. 

You have so many opportunities to adapt this recipe. A few other autumn veggies that are great in soups are cabbage, leeks, sweet potato, carrots and cauliflower. A lot of Asian vegetables like bok choy and Chinese cabbage are also in their prime right now and play well with soup. Have fun and play smart: incorporate seasonal veggies for the best results. 

I hope this has inspired you to make some tasty homemade soup of your own. Throw on a sweater and curl up with a bowl of your very own soup from scratch. If you have to put up with the cold weather, that's not a bad way to do it. For a little something different, you could make miso soup, borscht or my personal fave, matzo ball soup. This blog has plenty of ideas to inspire you.

Keep warm and until next time,


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