Growing up I barely appreciated soup. Sometimes we had it for supper, and I always felt like it was a lesser meal than a solid entree. Very much a meat-and-potato child at heart, I much preferred a ‘real meal’ to soup, and even my mother would never serve salad as anything other than a lovely side dish. Soup was for lunches, and even then I’d rather have something more filling.
When I was a teenager I spent less and less time at home, being always out with friends doing various nefarious things. Often meals were skipped, rushed or on such a budget that a dollar worth of fries would have to suffice. Shortly after turning twenty I moved out, and joyfully took over cooking my own meals, which consisted of a great deal of roast chicken and pastas. But slowly a certain lack appeared in my soul, a void of sorts, and that void cried to be filled up with soup. I’m sure my mother was surprised to learn that both her kids often chose soup as a meal, upon arriving for lunch or dinner, after disdaining it for many years.
Of course my favorite soups are all hearty, no wimpy broths or purees here, they are all chock full of veggies, grains and potatoes, with meat providing mainly the broth. They are very much a main dish affair, needing nothing more than a good crust of bread, sprinkled with cheese and broiled, if you’re feeling luxurious.
A few of my childhood soups are now firmly ensconced in my repertoire, a couple I have yet to master, and one I’ve made not once, but twice in the last two weeks. It’s a humble split pea soup, cooked with a smoked ham hock for a rich, golden broth, with smoky undertones. The ham hock needs a couple hours of simmering, so it’s perfect to make on a lazy weekend afternoon. It’s filling and delicious, perfect for our first cool fall evenings.
It starts with a simple pot of water and one smoked ham hock. You can skim the scum thoroughly or lazily, your choice.
(If you’re a vegetarian, I’d start with your favorite stock, the soup will take less than an hour, and you really should add a teaspoon of smoked paprika to the sauteeing veggies below. )
The ham hock needs at least two three hours to simmer, I start adding stuff when the meat is almost falling off the bones, at the two hour mark. The first ‘stuff’ to get added is about a cup of split peas. A cup will be good for a medium pot of soup. A regular large pot will need two cups. This is about where a half a tablespooon of salt will go in.
The split peas will take about 30-40 minutes to cook, which gives you time to prep some veggies. I typically use leeks, carrots, celery and a couple cloves of garlic.
Veggies get a brief sautee on medium high heat in a teaspoon of butter. If they start to lightly caramelize on the edges, that’s not a bad thing.
Dump them into the pot, and add two medium diced potatoes. Some people think this is a travesty. I say those people are very misguided. At a fine dice the potatoes will cook for about 15 – 20 minutes, and the soup is ready. (If you’re like me, this is where you’ll fish out the ham hock, strip the meat off the bone and plop it back in the soup.)
This is a soup that should be refrigerated, if for no other reason than to be able to skim the decent layer of fat that the ham hock produced. I always fail, and have a bowl as soon as its ready, then stick the cooled pot in the fridge, and wait for the next day to eat the rest in a guilt free fashion.