There’s something about winter that just begs for the making of split pea soup, wouldn’t you agree? Like the proverbial groundhog, who failing to see his shadow, retreats into the comfort of his burrow, in the chilly, foggy dampness of what is Sacramento winter, I stick my head out the door, only to make a quick retreat back into the house, wanting nothing more than to make a big pot of this hearty soup. Made with dried “split” peas, and cooked up with flavorful, smokey ham hocks, split pea soup is warm, satisfying, and great for leftovers.
- 1 lb (2 1/4 cups) green split peas
- 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 large leek, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 large clove of garlic, halved
- 1 herb bouquet*
- 2 well-rinsed ham hocks
- Salt and Pepper
- Optional garnish - small toasted croutons (avoid for gluten-free version)**, chopped parsley or chives
*Herb Bouquet: Tie 3 cloves garlic, 4 allspice berries, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon thyme, 8 sprigs parsley in rinsed cheesecloth or place in bouquet garni muslin bag.
**To make toasted croutons, take 2 or 3 slices of day-old French or Italian loaf bread, cut into cubes. Let dry out a bit (can put in 200 degree oven for 10 minutes to help dry). Melt a tablespoon or two of butter on medium high heat in a large skillet. When hot, add the bread cubes, spread out in a single layer. Let toast on one side and then turn to other sides. Add more butter if necessary. Alternatively you can toss the cubed bread with olive oil and let toast in a 350°F oven until lightly browned.
1 Pick over the peas and remove any stones. Wash and drain peas. Place in a 4 quart pan with the vegetables, herb bouquet, ham hocks and 2 1/2 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer. Skim the scum off the top of the soup for several minutes, until the scum ceases to rise. Cover loosely and simmer about 1 1/2 hours, or until peas are tender, stirring occasionally in case they stick to the bottom of the pan.
2 Remove the ham hocks and herb bouquet from the soup. Purée the soup with a blender. An immersion blender works great for this; if you are using a regular blender, take care to workin batches and only fill the blender halfway if the soup is still hot, and hold down the lid while blending. If you want an exceptionally smooth soup, pass the purée through a sieve.
3 Return the purée to the pot and heat to serve. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with croutons and parsley or chives.
If you want, don't discard the ham hocks, but cut away the outer skin and remove the meat from the bones. Dice the meat and serve with the soup.