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1. Rinse beans. In a 4-1/2- to 6-quart Dutch oven, combine beans and 6 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. (Or place beans and cold water in Dutch oven. Cover and let stand in a cool place for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.) Drain beans in colander; set aside.
2. Sprinkle beef with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper. In a 4 1/2- to 6-quart Dutch oven, cook beef in hot oil over medium-high heat about 5 minutes or until brown, turning once. Transfer to a plate.
3. Add onions, carrots, fennel or celery, and garlic to drippings in Dutch oven. Cover and cook, about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Return beef to Dutch oven; add drained beans, 6 cups water, the ham hocks, bouillon granules, bay leaf, dried thyme and dried rosemary (if using), and the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 2 hours or until beans and meats are tender.
4. Remove ham hocks and beef; let stand until cool enough to handle. Remove meat from bones. Cut meat into bite-size pieces; return to soup. Discard bones and bay leaf. Skim off fat. Stir in spinach and fresh herbs (if using). Heat through. Makes 8 to 10 servings.