1 pound dried cannellini beans, (may substitute another dried white bean)
1 onion, quartered
2 fennel bulbs, cores removed, cut into quarters
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into-2 inch chunks
1 pound smoked ham hock or shank
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
8 cloves garlic, sliced finely
10-12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Large sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
Pick through the dried beans to make sure that there are no small pebbles. Soak the beans using the hot soak or cold soak method: For the hot soak: Add beans to a large pot. Cover with water by 3 inches. Bring beans up to a boil, turn off heat, cover with a lid and let sit for one hour. For the cold soak: Place beans in large bowl and cover with water by 3 inches, let beans sit in water overnight (can be in stored in fridge or left on counter). Note: If you are using a slow-cooker, soaking beans is optional.
Heat a large, empty stockpot over medium-high heat. If using a slow-cooker, the following steps should be done in a sauce pan and then transfer ham hock and sweated vegetable mixture to the slow-cooker. Add olive oil. When oil starts to shimmer, add onion, celery, carrot, fennel, bay leaf and thyme and sweat until the vegetables soften and become translucent, about 8 minutes. Add salt, garlic, ham hock, stir and continue to sweat an additional 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock to stockpot and bring to a boil. If you are using a slow-cooker, add chicken stock to crockpot. You do not need to bring to a boil. Strain the soaked beans from the soaking water and add them to the stockpot or slow-cooker. Cover with more stock if necessary to bring the level of stock up to 1 ½ inches above the beans. Bring the pot back up to a rolling boil, lower heat to medium and simmer gently for 1 ½ hours or until beans are soft. If you are using a slow-cooker, set it to low and have the beans cook for 4-8 hours. At the 4 hour mark, test beans to check doneness. The beans should gently move around the surface of the pot. Skim any foam off the surface of the liquid as the beans cook.
Turn off heat and remove the ham hock. Let beans cool. Once cool, strain liquid, reserving for later use. Pour strained vegetables and beans on a large baking sheet. Remove vegetables, thyme leaf and bay leaf from the beans. You can use the vegetables for a separate use. Note: If you’re preparing these beans as part of the Smoked Cod and Braised Escarole meal, you may have a fair amount of leftovers. Store the broth and the beans separately in the fridge (so the beans don’t get mushy) and stir together to make bean soup throughout the week. It’s great with a little pistachio pesto swirled in. The white beans can also be frozen for future use.