Every once in a while I get a nagging craving for a particular comforting dish, and in the winter it often comes in the form of soup. I’ve found that the craving will go on and on until I actually make whatever it is…oddly, even if I have some of it out of the house somewhere. This time it was Split Pea Soup with Ham.
This recipe began years ago when I was living on my own in a condo, and I really didn’t cook too often. One cold winter day, a downstairs neighbor of mine was working in the kitchen on something that smelled really good, and I was smelling that delicious aroma for hours…it was making me crazed with hunger! I kept passing my neighbor in the hallway during this marathon of cooking, and asked him what it was…”Oh, that’s just my split pea soup,” he said casually, and back into his apartment he went, shutting the door with a disappointing finality.
Some time later…a knock on my door, and there he was smiling broadly, hands thrust forward holding a container of hot, pea-green soup. I couldn’t believe my eyes…he’d kindly shared some of this massive pot of soup with me, and I was both touched and excited to taste what I’d been smelling all day! At first bite, I was enthralled by the flavors, including a lovely finishing touch of sherry and the pretty pink and savory chunks of ham floating around in all the green-y goodness. I’d never had split pea soup that tasted so wonderful. Later, I asked him how to make it, and bless his heart, he threw out all of these ingredients in haphazard proportions, like I would know what all of this meant and how to deal with it, and then he spent a long time talking about the many stages and hours of cooking. I really appreciated the time he took to tell me about the recipe, and rapidly tried to make some half-hearted notes…truly daunted by the amount of ingredients and this long, long cooking time, and then I set aside the paper, and of course didn’t make the soup.
But the thought of that soup remained, as did somehow the paper that I’d written on.
Many years later, my husband expressed a great love of split pea soup with ham, always begging me to make some for him. One January after the holidays, I found myself in possession of a large leftover hambone with lots of meat on it. “Finally, I shall make this soup!” I thought. I found my torn scrap of paper amongst folders of recipe clippings that I’d collected and lugged around from place to place. The “recipe” now seemed more haphazard than I remembered, so I modified the notations, changed some ingredients I didn’t like and added some I did, and shortened the cooking time…I mean, it shouldn’t have to cook for 3 hours, for goodness sake! The end result of my first attempt was really quite good! Over time, I’ve tweaked it here and there, adding and changing quantities, and as it was dreary and cold the other night, I made this soup again. It was delicious.
Following is the way I like this soup best. Because I’m so fond of getting as many veggies into a soup or main dish meal, this soup is chock-full. I think using a hambone adds important flavor, as well as I particularly like the texture of the attached meat in this soup. Having said that, one could certainly make this soup with ham hocks, or a smoked turkey leg, or leave out meat entirely. With all the good veg and seasonings, I’m sure it would still taste good without meat, just not be quite the same “animal” so to speak…but do as you like, I totally understand having spent a short stint as a vegetarian myself. This soup freezes well, and grows thicker and of course tastier after the first day. The recipe below is based on having some to freeze for your next cold and/or rainy day.
Betsy’s Split Pea Soup with Ham
Makes about 10-12 servings and can be halved, freezes well.
2 1/2 cups diced celery
2 1/2 cups diced carrot
2 large peeled and diced onions
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2-16 oz. packages of split peas, rinsed well, drained and picked over
10 cups of low sodium chicken broth
10 cups of water
2 1/2 cups peeled and diced white potato
1 large meaty hambone, or you can add extra ham if needed
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried herbs de provence
2 cups shredded baby spinach
1/3 cup dry sherry
additional salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and the onions are transparent, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, water, peas, hambone, potato, half the parsley, 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, the tarragon, and the herbs de provence to the pot and stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, skim off any foam from the peas, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the meat is falling off the hambone and the peas are cooked through, falling apart and mushy. Remove the hambone from the pot to a large plate and then remove the meat from the bone, separating the fat from the meat. Add the ham back to the soup and discard the bone and fat. Add the spinach and the sherry to the soup and allow it to cook for about 5-10 more minutes until everything is warmed through. Skim off the collected fat from the top of the pot, stir and serve with croutons.
1 small baguette, sliced across into about 1/4 inch pieces
Shredded Asiago cheese or Parmesan, or just plain olive oil
Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the baguette slices and place under a broiler, toasting until the slices are golden brown and the cheese is melted, if using. Float a crouton on top of the soup and serve extra alongside for dunking.