Creamy Zucchini Soup with Smoked Ham Hock

Today brings with it a hint of autumn in the air. Hurrah! After what seems like months of scalding heat, our California sky is a blessed gray and I am thinking about breaking out my beloved knitted sweaters. Earlier I sauntered out to the chicken coop and found my baby chicks huddled together in a corner all fluffed up against the coldest temperature of their 9 weeks on earth: 76F/24C.

Simply walking towards the chicken pen is usually all it takes to instigate an ungodly clamor of flying feathers and squawking as they all rush forward, piling on top of each other to see what treats I’m bringing. Then, being friendly Buff Orpingtons, they crowd around my feet, begging to be picked up and petted.

But today everyone was eerily chilled out, taking dust baths and pecking lazily at the abused grape vine nearby. I opened one of the gates and even my littlest chick, Lucy, didn’t move from her cozy spot. So I picked her up and cuddled her on my lap, where she promptly fell asleep after thoroughly inspecting the camera.

Not wanting to waste these chilly temperatures, I returned Lucy to her fluffy siblings and marched into the kitchen to make zucchini soup with my faithful steed, Jet, who watched over me from a distance. My zucchini plants are still producing like crazy, and somehow those sneaky squashes are talented at hiding. I can go over and over a plant and still miss one, only to find it days later when it’s the size of my arm. A large zucchini is too fibrous to enjoy sautéed or steamed and the seeds are too tough to chew.

But a blended soup is the perfect way to use those extremity-sized zucchinis because the simple act of blending breaks up the fibrous insides and seeds, leaving you with that lovely zucchini flavor reminiscent of summer. Also, larger zucchinis mean more soup, so don’t be upset when you lose the garden version of hide and seek.

The first time I tasted a blended zucchini soup, it was made by my boyfriend’s step father, Mike. Mike is half French, and it shows in his elegant cooking. In fact, the simple salad vinaigrette I use on a regular basis is what we all refer to as “Mike’s Dressing,” and I’ll include it on PRF soon. Mike is famous for his delicious leg of lamb roasted with herbs de provence. He has yet to divulge his secret roasting technique that ensures the lamb is always the perfect shade of pink inside, but I’m pestering him!

I couldn’t believe how smooth and creamy blended zucchini soup could be without the use of potatoes or cream. True to form, Mike’s version was elegantly simple: zucchini, carrots, onion, garlic and oregano, gently sweated together until soft, then blended. Oh, so tasty.

I’ve expanded on his recipe only very slightly to include a little celery, chili, paprika and smoked ham hock. Cooking ham hocks on the bone with the vegetables adds valuable nutrients to the soup by way of bone marrow and collagen, both of which go a long way to support supple joints.

You can read more about bone marrow and collagen’s healthy influence on Dr. Cate Shanahan’s blog, or in her book, “Deep Nutrition.” Also check out the traditional eating Bible, “Nourishing Traditions,” by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, both very knowledgeable and resourceful authors.

You should be able to find smoked ham hocks at most grocery stores and definitely at a good butcher shop. Since I made friends with my butcher (sadly, the only one in town), he saves them for me and sells them at a bulk discount. I freeze them and pop them into a soup or stew when the mood strikes.

This soup allows the vegetables to cook in their own juices without any additional water, which intensifies their flavors and preserves their nutritional value. As you’ll see, the vegetables release so much moisture that adding water or stock is unnecessary.

Combining your vegetables with good fats like butter, olive oil and bone marrow helps your body to make better use of the vitamins and minerals in those vegetables, not to mention making them more palatable and delicious.

Ingredients

8 Medium zucchini, or 4 whopping big ones (More zucchini is always ok.)
1 smoked ham hock, cut in half (or in threes)
4 peeled carrots
2 stalks celery
1 large yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp dried oregano or 4 Tbsp fresh
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
salt
freshly ground black pepper

The most glorious thing about this soup, aside from its flavor, is how easy it is to cook. Chop the zucchini, carrots and celery into four equal pieces, the onion into large pieces, and don’t bother doing anything to the garlic cloves other than removing their skins. Don’t worry about being neat.

In a large stock pot heat your butter and oil over a medium heat, then sweat the onion, carrots and celery with the paprika and cayenne for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning. Sprinkle in a quarter teaspoon of salt to encourage the sweating process — salt draws out moisture.

When the onion pieces begin to look clear add the zucchini, oregano and another 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stirring into the other veg as well as you can. As you can see, my zucchini tops off the pot, but don’t worry, it will cook down quite a lot, very quickly. Nestle your ham hocks into the middle of the vegetables and cover, reducing to a low-medium heat. If your ham hocks are frozen, don’t bother defrosting. Just toss them in as they are.

Check back with your soup in twenty minutes, by which time everything should be simmering steadily. Stir as best as you can and cover the ham hocks with vegetables. Reduce the heat towards low, but maintain a gentle simmering action. Cover and leave everything to slowly melt together.

I recommend a cooking time of 1.5-2 hours. This allows all that smoky nutrition to cook out of the ham hocks and into your soup. However, it can be eaten after 1 hour of cooking, or consider making a vegetarian version which will be ready to blend as soon as your veg is soft and falling apart.

After a couple hours your zucchini should have reduced by about half in the pot. Use kitchen tongs to remove the ham hocks to a meat cutting board. Whip out your amazing immersion blender and blend your vegetables until smooth or pretty smooth. I enjoy a bite of carrot here and there, so I don’t blend all the way. Don’t have an immersion blender? A regular blender works fine — but blend in batches to avoid the pesky burns that inevitably accompany over-zealous blending.

Using a sharp knife, cut the meat off the bones, then chop into bite-sized pieces of porky goodness. The process of smoking fat dehydrates it, which makes it chewier than roasted fat, so you might want to cut away the extra from the meat. Or, eat it if you like! I won’t tell.

Before adding the meat to the soup, stir in the fresh lemon juice. You may want to start with the juice from half a lemon, then add more until you taste just a hint of acidity. Then add a little more salt as needed. Remember, the acid in lemon will lend a fresh character that usually cuts down on the need for salt, so keep that in mind as you season to taste.

Once your soup tastes perfectly delicious, add back the only thing that could make it more so: smoked ham. Tuck in to your warming soup with a side of fresh sourdough bread topped with pastured butter.

Don’t you love autumn?

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7 thoughts on “Creamy Zucchini Soup with Smoked Ham Hock

  1. Pingback: Summer: A to Zucchini | The Acupunc

  2. Everything you prepare looks magically delicious and stunning! Your pictures are excellent and elegant! You are an inspiration!

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