Fresh herbs and vegetables give this versatile soup the best possible flavor.
Cover ham bone with water in soup kettle and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour. Remove bone, skim off fat from broth. Cut meat from bone into bits and return to soup. Fry salt pork in skillet until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Add garlic, parsley, carrots, celery, and onions to fat and saute until tender. Do not brown. Add sautéed vegetables to ham broth, along with beans, tomatoes, and herbs. Simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes. Add spinach and simmer 10 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper and add reserved salt pork, if desired. Garnish with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Substitutions: If fresh shell beans are not available, use ½ cup dry beans, soaked and cooked. Soldier beans, lentils, or chick-peas, or any combination of these works well. Add them to the soup with their cooking liquid, or drain and add with a small amount of water. Just about any other vegetable except beets, cabbage, or turnips can be added. Green peppers, summer squash, green or wax beans, peas, leeks, fennel or other herbs will add their own character and blend well with the ingredients called for above. If you don’t have a ham bone, substitute beef bones or veal bones. For a vegetarian soup, omit the bone entirely.