Wednesday, December 5, 2012

’Tis the Season of Indulgence... or Overindulgence
Puréed Split Pea Soup

My contribution to the party.

At our neighborhood holiday party Sunday night, I was so busy chatting up old friends and getting to know people I hadn’t met before that I didn’t spend nearly enough time at the buffet. By the time I got home, the “feed me” messages were coming through loud and clear, and I’d had just enough champagne to trample whatever sensible thoughts I might have had for responding. I was too tired to cook, and the only thing I could find to eat that didn’t require cooking was peanut butter, so I had some. From the jar. About an inch of it. Let me just say here that no matter how hungry you are, an inch of peanut butter is too much. Especially on top of champagne.

So my stomach felt a bit odd the next day, and when that happens, I naturally turn to soup. Like many of you who are still working off the Thanksgiving leftovers, I had the remains of a big ham that had been waiting for me to do something creative – or at least useful – with it. (If you don’t, you should put a slab of ham on your grocery list, because I’ve got a nice recipe below.)

Wait a minute, you say – did I not just finish telling you that I had only peanut butter in the house? What about this ham? You’re right, but I’ve known all along that the ham would be for soup. Pea soup. So technically, it wasn’t available.

There’s nothing fancy about split pea soup, which for me is one of its attractions. Warm, thick, earthy, populated with nice juicy bits of ham, it’s the perfect cold weather comfort food. I never included it at my soup parties, mostly because my husband always said it wasn’t “special” enough. Maybe he’s right, but we certainly enjoyed it that night.

As with many bean/pea soups, this is a really versatile recipe, starting with the pig-centric approaches: the ham-bone version and the no-ham-bone version, which uses bacon instead. Both are excellent. Or you can combine the two for a really pork-licious style. Or... want a vegetarian approach? Eliminate the pork and use olive oil or canola oil with the veggie sauté; substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

Kitchen Goddess note #1: The original CIA recipe calls for white or yellow potatoes, peeled. I prefer the consistency and flavor of new potatoes, and I don’t peel them, because I don’t like peeling potatoes and I don’t mind little bits of the skin in my soup (once it’s puréed, you really can’t even see them). But you can use whichever potatoes you like.

Kitchen Goddess note #2: For goodness’ sake, be careful when puréeing hot foods in a blender, as the heat can build up steam that will actually blow the lid off the blender and burn you. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before you start, and do not fill the blender more than half full. Then either loosen or remove the center piece to the lid, and drape a kitchen towel over the lid to avoid splatters.

I serve this soup with a simple salad and thick slices of French bread toasted with cheese, which really moves the whole meal into self-indulgent luxury.

Puréed Split Pea Soup
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America Book of Soups

Serves 6.

For the ham-bone version, start with 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy soup pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven). You will need 1 meaty bone from a bone-in baked ham later in the recipe.

For the no-ham-bone version, start with 4 strips bacon. Cook the bacon in a heavy soup pot until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels and drain all but 3 tablespoons of the fat.

For both versions:

1 cup diced onion
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery
1 cup diced leek (white and light green parts)
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced new potatoes, peeled or not, according to your preference
½ pound split peas (green or yellow)
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
¼ cup Calvados
Flavoring sachet: Into a large teaball or cheesecloth bag, put
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
1 clove garlic
5 whole peppercorns

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil or bacon fat, whichever you are using, over medium-low heat and add the onion, carrot, celery and leek. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the broth, potatoes, split peas, and ham bone (if using), and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the caraway seeds, Calvados, and sachet, and continue simmering another 30 minutes, until peas are soft.

Remove and discard the sachet. Remove the ham bone and set aside. Purée the soup in a blender on low speed, working in batches, to a consistency that pleases you. (Read again the note above as to technique for puréeing hot foods.)

Return the soup to the pot. If you are using a ham bone, cut the meat off the bone, dice or chop it into bit-sized pieces, and add it back to the soup. If you are using bacon, crumble it into the soup. Serve in heated bowls.

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