This hearty wholesome soup hails from south- west France and is a good one for those on a budget or with a crowd to feed. According to ‘Larousse Gastronomique’, the most famous version is from Bearn (which includes cabbage and confit), but there are many local variations. In Gascony , the local tradition is to tip a glass of wine (preferably a full-bodied red) into the dregs of your bowl which not only makes the soup go further but is also very delicious. Toasted bread with cheese is sometimes served as an accompaniment, as with French onion soup.


Serves 6 – 8

300g haricot or other beans, soaked overnight in water

1 kg smoked ham hock

500g potatoes (Pontiac or desiree), peeled and diced

300g carrots, peeled and diced

2 large leeks, white part only, washed well and sliced

1kg savoy cabbage, finely shredded

1 onion, studded with 3 cloves

3 litres water

Freshly chopped parsley, thyme and marjoram

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drain beans and discard soaking water. Blanch ham hock: cover with cold water, bring to the boil, drain.

Put the beans, ham hock, potatoes, carrots, leeks, cabbage and onion into a large saucepan and pour over the water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered , for 2 ½ – 3 hours. Add herbs, season to taste and simmer a few more minutes. Serve hot in large soup plates accompanied by toasted slices of French bread (‘baguette’).

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