Let’s be honest – split pea soup is by far one of the least appetizing dishes to look at. My grandma always made this when I was a younger and I would never dare go near it – it looked far too unappealing for my underdeveloped taste buds. As a result, I had never tried the soup, instead being turned off by its looks. My grandma recently returned home from a stint in the hospital and rehabilitation center and I thought that making her a pot of soup for when she got home would be a nice gesture. Knowing that ham and split pea soup has long been one of her favorites, I took the opportunity to try something new and work with an ingredient I had never used before (dried peas).
I can’t stress enough how pleasantly surprised I was by the flavor of this soup. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this soup is thick, hearty and full of flavor, and one that I will definitely be making again during the cold winter months. A key component to all of the flavor is making your own stock from a ham and ham bone. The house smelled absolutely fabulous while the stock was simmering and I couldn’t wait to add the rest of the ingredients to the soup and let it continue to simmer. After this soup and making my own mushroom stock for the Cream of Mushroom soup back in the fall, I am totally sold on the benefits of taking the time to create homemade stock for whatever soup I am making.
1 piece (about 2½ pounds) smoked, bone-in picnic ham
4 bay leaves
1 pound (2½ cups) split peas, rinsed and picked through
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped medium
2 medium carrots, chopped medium
2 medium stalks celery, chopped medium
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 small new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch dice (about ¾ cup)
Ground black pepper
Minced red onion (optional)
1. Place the ham, bay leaves, and 3 quarts water in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2½ hours. Remove the ham meat and bone from the pot. When the ham is cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the rind, fat, and bone.
2. Add the split peas and thyme to the ham stock. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes.
3. While the peas are simmering, heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and saute, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates and the vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the butter, garlic, and sugar. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, 30 to 35 minutes; set aside.
4. Add the sauteed vegetables, potatoes, and shredded ham to the pot with the split peas. Simmer until the potatoes are tender and peas dissolve and thicken to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes. Season with ground black pepper to taste. (The soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 days. Warm the soup over low heat until hot.) Remove the bay leaves. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with red onion, if using, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.