Thursday, February 8, 2007

Inspired by Dad: Split Pea Soup

What is more comforting in the bitter cold that is New England’s winter- then split pea soup? This soup is one of my most nostalgic, as growing up it was my father’s favorite. I can vividly remember winter nights with the fireplace turned high, (and at this point we still had an authentic wood burning fireplace) blankets curled around me, the cartoon network dancing across the television screen, and the scent of thick pea and ham soup simmering away in the pressure cooker.

While I had never made this soup before it seemed pretty straight forward and simple, although I did worry about the success of it without a pressure cooker. After browsing through several cookbooks and some websites I saw that the pot was unnecessary. Thank heaven for small miracles because I don’t have room for another pan in the kitchen and would have been tempted to buy one to suffice my craving.

Dad always made pea soup with a thick and somewhat fatty slab of ham on the bone. Some of the recipes I looked at called for the same thing while others left meat out altogether. I was looking for a similar flavor to that of my dads so I set off to the grocery store in search of a hunka pig (sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

After an unsuccessful search I learned that Shaws “does not carry” ham on the bone. I also found out that I must not be the only one craving pea soup. Wholefoods “just sold out,” but they did have slabs of boneless ham which were “just as good.” At this point I was set on digging into a bowl of the creamy concoction. I could no longer feel my toes from the trek around Boston, and decided that the boneless would have to do.

Luckily, boneless or not, the soup turned out exactly as I had hoped. It was nice and thick and the chunks of carrot and ham were just the right size. It was also a cinch to prepare and required only one pot. Also, I didn’t have to go through the mess of cutting the ham OFF the bone after cooking. (Although next time I will still seek out the boned version as I’m sure it’ll bring the flavor off the charts)

This is one of those recipes that I have to love. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s exquisitely gratifying.

Couldn’t be better- split pea and ham soup:

1 small vidallia onion chopped
¾ cup chopped carrots
¾ cup chopped celery
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 cups dried split peas
1 ½ quarts chicken stock
2 cups water
2 tbsp. dried thyme
1 cube chicken bullion
2 cups cubed boneless ham (I used applewood smoked.)
Pepper & Salt

In a large Dutch oven sautĂ© first five ingredients until onions are translucent (about seven minutes.) Stir in the dried peas then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat then cover and reduce heat to low, simmering for 1 ½ - 2 hours. (Try to avoid the temptation to peak as it’ll let out all the heat and the soup may stick.) After the soup has reached a thick consistency and the peas are no longer in “pea” form, turn off the burner and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

(I don’t know why this final step is important but I do it every time I make soup to let the flavors intermingle and to encourage the broth to thicken even more.)

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