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Which beans for ham and bean soup?

I want to place an order for beans from Rancho Gordo for a much-anticipated bean soup I've been wanting to make, though I have rather limited bean knowledge. Which beans should I use? The Senate bean soup says navy, others cannellini, and still others... "white" (tepary? vallarta? mayacoba? borlotti? aigh!). I'd like to puree a small portion to thicken the soup at the end, and retain some substance in the rest as opposed to the beans completely melting into the soup. Thank you so much in advance!

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  1. Navy. Great Northern would be my next choice. I look at Rancho Gordo but never bought from them, so sorry if that doesn't help.

    1. Another vote for navy beans!

      1. Personally, I don't think there's a huge flavor or texture diff between most beans. Naturally, a split pea is different than a lentil is different than a lima, but a cooked lima is not so different than a cooked cannellini or a borlotti except visually. In my opinion. Cooking times will vary but that has as much to do with the age of the bean as the size and can be mitigated by a thorough soak and slow, gentle cooking.

        This means that you have a wide latitude to use what's available or make an assortment according to your whim. Go for it and don't be intimidated!

        PS A friend told me that I had to try Rancho Gordo beans. Altho I am much in ffavor of preserving heirloom varieties and diversity of all things, I can't say I've noticed a great difference between RG beans and any decent locally available bean.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rainey

          Thank you for the objective assessment with regards to Rancho Gordo beans and the other varieties! This means I can make my soup sooner than later. And more thank yous to coll and LauraGrace -- I think I'll go with Navy. More comments are very welcome!

        2. Great Northern beansand navy are basically the same bean that are of different sizes - they are both cultivars of haricot. They taste the same and are interchangeable - Great Northerns are slighly bigger. Since you said you'd wanted them to hold their shape, I'd go for them. But Rancho Gordo doesn't sell them...just buy them at your regular old grocery store.

          1. I find cannellini have a creaminess and flavor beyond compare; they're all I use for ham and bean soup anymore. I picked up a bag of Rancho Gordo beans at the SF Ferry Building farmer's market while on vacation a few years ago, and they were delightful. Good luck and enjoy.

            1. Navy beans, and you won't be disappointed using Ranch Gordo beans. These are the perfect bean with a ham bone in my oppinion. Celery,onion, bay leaves, thyme or herbs de provence, and you'll have a wonderful meal. Like you I pure some of the beans. Don't foreget to make a bread to go with, cornbread is the norm here, but there are so many others you can do. Just a complete and healthy meal. The beans take time, so you could make a wonderful olive and asiago bread or rosemary bread, So many go perfectly.
              Pesto bread, sundried tomato... what an economic meal too.
              I find that the ham bone with a little meat is nice, and then I add just a little extra ham, not too much or the ham will overwhelm the soup/beans.

              1. I've never used Rancho Gordo, but I am a believer in making every attempt to use as fresh a bean as possible - not a grocery store brand that may have been setting in a warehouse for years. My brand of choice - when I can find it in TX - is Camillia. Fresher beans cook through and typically will not pose the potential problem of finding that little texture of "grit" in the center most portion of the bean after cooking. Additionally, they'll more easily release they're own starch to make a creamy gravy/liquor without having to puree.

                As to bean soup, I'm in the Great Northern camp, but I prefer a larger bean than Navies, which do taste the same. But trust me, other than GNs and Navies, there is a huge difference in flavor among beans - Great N/Navies, Red Kidneys, Pink, Lima, Butter, Pintos - HUGE differences!


                1. I just saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen where they made a Tuscan Bean Stew. They brined the beans for eight hours, which supposedly improved the texture of the beans and prevented them from bursting during cooking.

                  This blog has the recipe posted:

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gmm

                    Thanks so much! Just went through the brining post, and think I'll have to try it out. My only concern is whether the soup will be inedibly salty if I brine the beans and subsequently cook with a ham bone or smoked ham hocks.

                  2. Cannellini bean works well if you plan to puree a small portion. It is a meatier bean and will render more flavor once pureed.

                    1. I made ham and bean soup with black eyed peas, which are another good option. I think a little spinach or greens cooked in the soup is especially nice with the beans, too.

                      1. I love baby limas but they are getting hard to find in the stores nowadays.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: CookinGal

                          they were always the beans used in our home.

                        2. I am not a fan of navy beans>I will eat them,but never buy them.
                          If it is my nickle it's northern or cannellini beans.And if you can find them cranberry beans.

                            1. Yeah, my vote is for cannellini beans too. Puree half the cooked soup then add the other half with the whole beans. I know this is obvious but don't forget to remove the bay leaf and of course the ham bone/meat before stick blending. LOL

                              1. Cannelini or navy. Use a potato masher to smash some to get it to the creaminess you desire. When reheating, add some water to loosen.

                                1. I usually make split pea and ham soup-

                                  I have The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower's Guide by Steve Sando


                                  Bean by Bean A Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon

                                  I have found Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans and Gourmet Valley Beans at Wholefoods.

                                  I also use split peas from Goya- purchased from local Presidente or Sedano's . The Hispanic supermarkets usually have freshest beans-

                                  1. Great Northern. Made it a few days ago.

                                    1. I like borlotti, as I grow them and therefore I know they're very fresh. Otherwise, I use what I have in the pantry. Most beans are just variants on Phaseolus vulgaris (not teparies or limas, though) and can be used interchangeably, although they do have different tastes. Senate Bean Soup traditionally used small white beans since the recipe comes from New England and that's what they had, but in the South small red beans are more common, so they're used more in Creole and Cajun cuisine. There really aren't any rules, though - make your bean soup often and with as many different kinds of beans as you can find, then choose your own favorite.