I had completely forgotten about this simple, peasant-style soup until it reappeared in my life last winter. We spent Christmas Day at a friend’s parents’ house, and his mom, feeling sorry for us orphans, had bought a few gifts for us to open. One of mine was a bean soup mix, which I put in the cupboard to save for a rainy day. When that day came, I read the instructions on the label, and headed off to our local butcher for the smoked ham hock it called for.
Only to discover that I’d been doing soup all wrong.
Recently, I had a fierce, almost nostalgic craving for this soup. Without a handy bean mix, I turned to the internet, which was ripe with suggestions. Most of them echoed the original, very basic recipe: Sauté onion, celery, and carrot in olive oil with salt and pepper, add stock, split peas, herbs, and hocks, bring to a boil, reduce, and simmer. Remove hocks, cool, shred meat and return to soup. Voila.
With the same homey, comforting flavor profile as chicken noodle soup, this has become my go-to “soup for the soul”–worth learning to make “by heart.” This is soup as it’s meant to be. Thrown together, and how I imagine eating in rural France with a slab of crusty bread and a round of Brie. Depending on whether you use marjoram, or thyme, or whether you serve it as-is or topped with sour cream and homemade garlic croutons, this soup will suit any mood.
Today, after my long ride and first transition run of the season, it was just right.
Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham Hocks
2 cups green split peas, picked through
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, smashed, peeled, and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 marjoram or thyme sprigs
2 quarts (8 cups) liquid (homemade chicken stock, low-sodium canned chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water)
2 pounds smoked ham hocks
- Put the split peas in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the carrot, onion, and celery; season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar; and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Drain the split peas and add them to the pot. Add the bay leaf, marjoram, broth, and ham hocks. Give a good stir and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, continuing to stir to keep the peas from scorching. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 1.5 hours.
- Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the ham hocks from the pot. Set them aside on a plate. Cook the soup for 30 minutes longer, or until the peas and other vegetables have completely broken down and the soup has thickened considerably. If it becomes too thick, add more stock or water.
- When the ham hocks have cooled enough to work with, use your hands to remove the meat from the bones, shredding it as you work. There won’t be a lot of it, but what is there is very flavorful. Set the meat aside.
- When the pea soup is done, use tongs or a spoon to remove and discard the bay leaf and marjoram sprigs. Taste and correct seasoning, bearing in mind that the bits of ham are salty. Add the shredded meat to the pot. If not serving immediately, let cool, cover, and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to 1 month. If desired, serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a few fresh thyme leaves, and a homemade garlic crouton (made with crusty bread) floated on top.
Courtesy of Leite’s Culinaria.