If you are sorting beans night before, go ahead and do this method. Sort through the pound of great northern white beans and discard any debris or cracked beans.
Add the beans to a large bowl and cover with 6 cups of cool water. The beans absorb some water, so be sure to add an extra few inches of water above the beans.
Allow the beans to soak for at least 6 hours, or over night. During this time the beans will double in size and soften a bit. Do no soak for more than 24 hours.
Before preparing the soup, drain the beans and set off to the side. If you are cooking the soup after soaking overnight, add the drained beans to the large sauce pan (or Dutch oven)and cover with water (make sure covered 2-inches over the beans). Continue on with rest of recipe.
WITHOUT soaking overnight:
(This is mom’s way to make it)
Sort through the beans, checking for any debris or broken beans and discard them. Rinse out the beans with cold water and drain them in a colander.
Place beans in a large saucepan (or Dutch oven, that is what I use) and cover with water. Add enough water to cover 2-inches above the beans.
Add the ham bone, onion chunks, couple of cloves of garlic, bay leaves and a little salt and pepper. Boil for 5-7 minutes (the ham bone may be poking out of the water a little…just try to push it back in, but it’s ok if it peaks out a little).
Bring to a boil, lower heat to reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 2-2.5 hours (set a timer)until beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding additional water to make sure beans are covered with liquid. *IF you soaked beans overnight, they should be ready in 60-90 minutes on the low simmer.
During last 45 minutes of simmering, add the bouillon paste, carrot chunks, and the extra ham chunks (I had almost two cups chopped up).
Remove bay leaves and discard. Carefully remove the ham bone and place on cutting board. With a fork, remove any remaining ham off the bone and stir it into the soup. Discard the bone. If soup is too thick, add 1-2 cups additional water and stir. Check soup for flavor, add salt and freshly ground pepper, as needed (I added 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper).
In a small skillet, heat the oil (or butter or even lard if you happen to have some on hand)over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook 2-3 minutes until the flour spreads over the bottom of the pan. The color will first be white and then turn light golden color. Be sure to keep close eye and not let it turn from golden to a brown color that will taste burned (you’ll have to do all over again).
Remove pan from the heat and add paprika in the skillet. Stir off the heat for one minute.
Return the pan to medium-low heat and ladle in some of the soup broth (make sure no beans, just the broth). Add it in small batches while stirring so it will thicken. If it seems lumpy, switch from using a spoon to a whisk to get out any lumps. Keep on adding broth and stirring until you added in all the broth.
Add the roux and the vinegar to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more. Mom likes to drizzle on a little extra-virgin olive oil at the end to give it a nice shine. If soup is too thick, add 1-2 cups additional water and stir.
Slow cooker method: Add into the slow cooker the beans, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaves and ham bone. Cover with water. Cook the soup on low for 6-8 hours. When you make the roux, that gets added in the last 30 minutes to thicken up the soup (and that’s when you can add the extra ham chunks). Check seasoning and add any salt and pepper, if needed. When ready, discard bay leaf. Remove ham bone and use a fork to remove any ham that is flaking off and add to the soup.