I'm clearly having a soup craze. I know this seems nutty on a day when we're supposed to have a high of 73 degrees, however, it is still February, so my soup obsession is at least seasonal, even if the seasons aren't playing along. This all started earlier in the week when, yes, there was snow on the ground. Better still, I had the great good fortune to luck into a meaty ham bone at the grocery store. I habitually check to see if they've got one at the deli, having finished up slicing a spiral ham. When I find one, I scoop it up and stow it away in the freezer knowing it will find a happy home in something or other before too long.
This week when I found one, it was a harbinger of good things to come, as I'd had split pea soup on my mind since the first snow flakes fell on Sunday. My parents were both big split pea soup aficionados and I'd been missing it.
When the ham bone materialized I decided it was a sign. The bad news was I didn't know what recipe my parents used so I started looking around in all of my usual places, and in fairly short order came up with a stupendous one from none other than my beloved James Villas.
This recipe is from his wonderful book Pig, King of the Southern Table. It's not only easy, but had me from the get-go by being his take on the recipe from Commander's Palace in New Orleans--perhaps one of the most memorable places I dined in 2010. I scooped up the other ingredientsand made it in no time, only changing James' recipe by using my immersion blender at the end to create the smooth pottage that my parents preferred.
My goodness it was wonderful and, since it promises to get cooler this weekend I am ready--that is if I can resist gobbling it all up tonight.
Split Pea and Ham Soup
makes 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks (white parts only), rinsed thoroughly and sliced widthwise 1/4 inch thick
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
4 celery ribs, cut into large dice
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 meaty ham bones
2 pounds dried split peas, rinsed and picked over
3 quarts unsalted chicken broth
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste (optional)
In a large soup pot, melt the butter over moderate heat, add the leeks, carrots, celery, and garlic and stir till softened, about 8 minutes. Add the ham bones and stir till the aroma of ham becomes evident, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, stirring constantly, and cook till they turn bright green, about 3 minutes.
Add the broth, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to love, cover, and continue cooking till the liquid is creamy and the peas start to break down, about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding a little water if the soup seems too thick.
Turn the soup off. Remove the ham bones and, when cool enough to handle, remove and dice the meat and set aside. Using your immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Add the meat back to the soup and reheat, stirring well. Either add some Tabasco if you're so inclined--it's a marvelous addition--or at least provide it on the table for people to dose their own bowls. Serve it piping hot.
—Adapted from Pig, King of the Southern Table by James Villas