Thursday, March 14, 2013

Split Pea Soup with Ham & Bacon

The Green Grass Grew All Around by Larry Groce & Disneyland Children's Sing-Along Chorus
Bear with me this week.  So many thoughts running around in my brain - all I can think of when I see or think of Split Pea Soup is "green."  It is its most distinctive feature, in my book.  I figured a song about something green would be fitting.  And a song that I remember my father singing with us kids would be even more fitting as I mark the 18th year of being on this planet without him around to sing with me anymore.  My father was a master guitarist.  And that made me a lucky kid as I was serenaded to sleep almost every single night by my father playing and singing downstairs.  He played just about every day.  But my favorite times were when he'd pull out his guitar and just start playing kid songs and leading us in sing-alongs.  And this song was one of the best!  He'd make up his own verses, going on and on and on, thinking of something infinitesimally smaller than the object in the previous verse.  He'd have us all giggling silly.  And when the song would be done - finally - he'd be ear-to-ear grin and chuckling silly himself.  I wish you could have experienced this, too.  So my St. Patrick's Day offering this year is something green ~ from one very lucky kid.     

I've always liked Split Pea Soup.  
It's an old-timey kind of soup and brings about images of days of yore - of simple hard-working days and long evenings spent with the family.

I know it's appearance can be a little off-putting to many folks.  Green and mushy.  Not the best words of endorsement.  But, what can I say?  It is what it is.  Like mushrooms and spinach, I was surprised as a child when I discovered that I wasn't supposed to like it.  Certainly all the other kids at school found it disgusting.  Maybe their parents just didn't make it right!  I just know that the homey smell of a simmering ham bone with onions and celery guaranteed something delicious for dinner.  And, often, that delicious something was Split Pea Soup with Ham!

If you remember, I started off this year telling you about how I made some ham stock from my leftover Christmas ham.  I froze that ham stock, along with the remaining pieces of ham that I trimmed from the bones to make that stock.  I knew that some really good soups were waiting in my future.  The White Bean and Ham Soup was one.  This Split Pea Soup with Ham and Bacon is another.

You can definitely make this using either vegetable stock or chicken stock - but, oh, what culinary music you'll be making if you use a ham stock.  Of course, you could just throw a ham bone in while making the soup.  But I found that you get several uses out of that ham bone if you make a basic stock with it and spread that joy around a bit.  If you have a ham dinner planned for Easter, I'd seriously be thinking about turning that leftover ham bone into some stock!  And then making this soup shortly after!

I had intended to use some bacon in the soup - first rendering the fat in which to saute the veggies and then saving the crumbled bacon pieces for a garnish.  But I didn't use a nonstick pot.  And all those bacon pieces stuck to the bottom of the pan and the more I tried to free them the more that bacon disintegrated into tiny little fragments!  Oh heck!  I just decided I'd leave it all in as part of the soup at that point.  This ended up being a very happy accident!  Bacon AND ham!  Delicious times two!

Luckily, I married another Split-Pea-Soup-loving soul who was more than pleased when I presented a bowl of this soup along with some Nut & Berry Wheat Bread for dinner.  Lucky, indeed!

Split Pea Soup with Ham & Bacon
serves 6
1 t. vegetable oil
2 slices bacon, sliced into 1/4" strips
1/2 white onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stem
1 qt. ham stock (or vegetable or chicken stock)
2 c. water
16 oz. dried split peas
2 c. chopped ham
Kosher salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and then add the bacon pieces and stir and sauté until they start to crisp. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and stir to coat with the fats.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.  Add the fresh thyme and stir and cook for a minute more to bloom the flavor and aroma of the herb.  

Add the ham stock and stir to loosen up the bits from off the bottom of the pan.  Add the water and the split peas and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the peas become soft - about 30 - 45 minutes.  Add the chopped ham pieces and stir until the peas start to break down a bit.  I like to leave my soup with some definition to the peas.  If you prefer a creamier texture, then puree all or part of the soup before adding the ham pieces.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you don't have stock, you can add 1 1/2 qt. water to the sauteed vegetables and bacon along with a ham bone.  Add the split peas, bring to a boil and then reduce and simmer until the peas become tender.

To serve, ladle into a bowl and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.  Don't you love how the orange of those carrots just pop?!?!

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