From time to time, my mother-in-law (or grandmother-in-law) will call me up and ask if I want a leftover ham bone.  Of course I do!  The bone is the very best part.  I like to eat ham on occasion, say for a holiday at someone else’s house, but I never cook it at home.  I do, however, love to make soup, and a soup made with a ham bone is a glorious thing.

This week, my mother-in-law bought two ham bones — just the bones — one for her soup and one for mine.  She slow-cooked hers in the style preferred by the U.S. Senate, with navy beans, onions, and garlic.  I made a dark, rich ham stock, then added some lentils and greens.

Both soups are hearty, meaty, and wonderfully wintery.  Here’s mine:

Lentil and Ham Bone Soup

I like tiny French green lentils — they hold their shape and have a clean, almost peppery flavor that complements the smoky sweetness of the ham — but any variety will do.

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups

For the ham stock:

1 ham bone, trimmed of as much meat as possible (reserve about2 c. diced ham for the soup, if you like)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, peeled and quartered

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

2 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch chunks

A handful of mushrooms, any kind, quartered if large

9-10 c. water

A handful of parsley stems

8 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

For the soup:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 stalk celery, diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 c. ham stock

2 c. lentils, picked over and rinsed

2-3 tsp. sherry vinegar

2 c. diced ham (optional)

Fresh baby spinach, washed and steamed, or whatever greens you like, cooked according to your taste (kale or collards are good, too)

Make the ham stock:

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in olive oil, then add onion, carrot, celery, and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are nicely browned, about 8 minutes (turn down heat if they brown too quickly).

Add hambone to pot, then pour in enough water to cover all but the top inch or so of the bone.  Add herbs and peppercorns, raise heat to high, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Strain stock, discarding solids.  Skim fat from surface and set aside.  You should have about 8 c. of stock.

Make the soup:

Wash and dry pot, then return to stove.  Warm over medium heat, then drizzle in oil.  Add onion, carrot, and celery to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and pepper, then stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.  Pour in stock, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon, then stir in lentils.  Raise heat, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until lentils are tender, 30-40 minutes.

Stir in vinegar.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  Add a little water if you like a thinner soup.  Serve garnished with diced ham and steamed spinach.

Lentil soup freezes well (with the ham, but not the greens).  I like to steam a handful or two of fresh spinach right before serving.  It’s quick and easy:  put a pile of spinach and a tablespoon or two of water in a glass bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave on high for 40-60 seconds.

Note:  If you have food allergies or a gluten-intolerance, check the ingredients in your ham — they vary from brand to brand.

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