It’s been a cold winter here in southern California — and I’m talking about a greater than +/- 5 degree variance in temperature. Scoff if you like, but cold is relative. Like the saying goes, a sweater is what you put on when your mother is cold.
Cold weather puts me in the mood for hearty stews. I like my hearty stews chunky (I like my peanut butter, however, smooth, and my beverages shaken, not stirred — as if I knew the difference).
A lot of my cooking is done Iron Chef-style, with whatever happens to be in the fridge (tonight, for instance, I made a cauliflower and leek soup using some leftover garlic butter made a few days back and chicken stock — and it was lovely), and what I love about this is that it feels a bit like a scavenger’s soup, delicious edition. I made this batch after Christmas with leftover ham and brought it on our ski trip. It would have been a little more wonderful if my friend (who was in charge of dinner the first night) hadn’t brought an 8.5 pound ham, and if we hadn’t had ham in every iteration thereafter. Also, if I didn’t have to ski so much. But I still do love ham and split pea soup.
My favorite part of skiing is that kids look like cute little astronauts with no joints. Based on that I am sure you have deduced that I am an excellent skier.
The best version of split pea soup I’ve had comes from The New Best Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which is one of my go-to cookbooks despite not having a single photograph in it that would qualify as food porn — so that is saying a lot.
Start by simmering the ham for 2-2.5 hours, til the meat falls off the bone. This makes flavor for the broth.
Take the ham meat and bone out; add split peas and thyme and simmer 45 minutes. When the ham’s cool enough, shred the meat. You’ll want to devour all the tender meat immediately, but try to hold off.
Saute onion, carrots and celery in oil, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes til they’re really brown and caramelized. More flavor!
Add the veggies, potatoes and shredded ham into the soup and simmer about 20 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
HAM AND SPLIT PEA SOUP (Cook’s Illustrated)
- 3 quarts water
- 1 piece (about 2.5 pounds) smoked, bone-in picnic ham
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 pound (1.5 cups) split peas, rinsed and picked over
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped medium
- 2 medium carrots, chopped medium
- 2 medium celery ribs, chopped medium
- 1 TBSP unsalted butter
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- pinch sugar
- 3 small new potatoes, scrubbed and diced medium
- ground black pepper
- minced red onion (optional)
- balsamic vinegar
- Bring the water, ham and bay leaves to a boil in a large soup kettle, covered, over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2.5 hours. Remove the ham meat and bone from the broth; add the split peas and thyme and simmer until the peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, when the ham is cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite-size pieces and set aside. Discard the rind and bone.
- While the ham is simmering, heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots and celery; saute, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates and the vegetables begin to brown, 5-6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the butter, garlic and sugar. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, 30-35 minutes; set aside.
- Add the sauteed vegetables, potatoes and shredded ham to the soup; simmer until the potatoes are tender and the peas dissolve and thicken the soup to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes more (I still like my peas intact but very tender, so shortened this by 5 minutes). Season with pepper ot taste. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the red onion, if using, and serve, passing the balsamic vinegar separately.
The recipe says that it serves 6, but I find it serves more like 8-10.