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1. Sort through the beans and discard any stones or damaged beans. in a colander rinse well, then transfer to 4- or 5-quart container and cover generously with water. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. The beans will double or triple in size.
2. Drain the water, rinse the beans, and put them in a heavy nonreactive 5- to 6-quart pot or Dutch oven. Add the ham, 6 cups of water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Initially, the beans should be covered by about 1-1/2 inches.
3. Bring the beans to a simmer over moderate heat and partially cover the pot (leave about a half-inch gap); add water as necessary to keep beans covered by a half-inch. Stir gently during cooking so beans won't stick to bottom. Cook slowly for about 1 hour until beans are just tender but not at all mushy.
4. While the beans simmer, prepare tomato sauce. Transfer drained tomatoes to a large, deep bowl (to keep juices contained) and crush.
5. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet cook onion in hot olive oil over medium heat just until soft, but not browned. Add garlic to the softened onions and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, and the crushed tomatoes. Cook, gently, uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes. Taste for salt, adding additional if needed.
6. Stir tomato-onion mixture into beans, and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes, until the beans are fully tender. To serve, transfer beans to individual bowls and ladle some of the cooking broth over the beans. Makes 6 side-dish servings.
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet; place in oven until butter is melted and starts to sizzle, about 2 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl combine fine-ground cornmeal or corn flour*, salt, and baking soda. In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk and eggs. Add to cornmeal mixture. Whisk until a smooth batter forms and batter has a sheen, adding additional buttermilk if necessary (batter will be slightly thin.) Pour hot butter into batter and whisk to combine. Transfer batter to hot skillet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Cool in pan a few minutes; remove from pan. Serve warm.