Our early spring seems reluctant to let go. I know summer doesn't officially start until the 21st of June, but it's not unreasonable to expect some hot sunny weather from the end of May forward. It's been mostly in the 60s, even on sunny days, with temps in the low 40s or even 30s overnight – not even warm enough to sleep with the windows open (to my mind, one of the great joys of spring). And then we keep getting days like today: grey, dark, rainy, blustery, and COLD, hovering somewhere in the low 50s. It's the kind of day that forces you into a sweater and wool socks, demands a fire in the woodstove, and marches you into the kitchen to make a pot of soup.
I don't think I ever had split pea soup growing up. My mother had many and odd food prejudices, as she had about so many things under the sun, and I suspect a distaste for pea soup led her to bar it from the household. I believe the first time I ate pea soup was the first time I made it, some time in my late twenties, goaded by curiosity and compelled by my first winter in Vermont. It's a deeply satisfying soup, hearty and nourishing – and ridiculously quick and easy to make. There are vegetarian versions, but because I'm not a vegetarian I don't pay them much mind. If you're so inclined, this recipe from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks looks just fine.
Split Pea Soup with Ham
Makes about 2 quarts of soup.
1 lb. dried green or yellow split peas (a bag of these off the grocery store shelf is 1 pound), rinsed and picked over
2 qts. water
1 meaty ham bone or smoked ham hock
1 large bay leaf
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium waxy potato, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Optional: 1/4 lb. chunk of good-quality smoked ham, diced
- Dried peas don't require soaking before cooking, so dump the rinsed peas right into a soup pot with the water, whichever pork option you're using and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and skim off the foam that forms.
- Stir in the vegetables, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the peas and vegetables are soft (about an hour and a half).
- Remove the ham bone or hock. Let cool, then pull off and dice finely any meat from the bones. This is often a disappointingly small quantity, so I usually supplement with a small amount of good diced ham.
- Add the diced ham to the pot and season to taste with salt and ground pepper.
It's possible to tart up this soup into something fussy, puréeing it and straining it into a silky bisque, but I prefer it humbly lumpy. If you want to be fancy, add a shot of dry sherry and sprinkle some garlicky croutons over the top.
Serve the soup with some good crusty bread, a few stinky cheeses, and some strong ale or rustic red wine, and you're likely to forget what drove you to make soup in the first place.