Dad's split pea soup...
For some reason, there's a whole lot of kids and adults who think they don't like peas. Just mention the word and they turn up their noses. They act like their going to be poisoned!
The Motley Monk's Dad made the best split pea soup. No one who tried it ever turned down having another bowl.
Dad's "magic" was that he used two bags of split peas. In this way, one half of the peas would cook down and thicken the soup into a stew-like consistency. The second half of the peas would be al denté, giving real pea flavor and a bit of bite to the soup.
All Dad needed was a leftover ham bone, hopefully with some meat attached.
It just so happened that The Motley Monk's "Polish aunt" ("MJX" [her nickname], who lives down the street) came by HIH II to drop off the leftover ham bone from her Easter Sunday dinner. This isn't the stuff of pure charity because there is a deal: Since her son-in-law, Skip, loves split pea soup and MJX says she doesn't, MJX "donates" the bone—always with loads of meat attached—and The Motley Monk makes the soup, "donating" one-half back to MJX who, in turn, gives it to Skip. It's a "win-win" for The Motley Monk.
Making the soup is a snap—there are no "quantities" to measure only estimates to be made—and the product is so tasty, that it's a shame that anyone would ever even thing of throwing away a leftover ham bone!
Begin by preparing the vegetables.
The recipe calls for diced carrots, onions, and rosemary.
For this batch, The Motley Monk diced ½ of a large Vidalia onion, a similar amount of carrots, and 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary.
In a deep pot, sweat the vegetables in a little olive oil. Add the rosemary, 3 bay leaves (here The Motley Monk used fresh bay leaves from his bay leaf tree), 1 teaspoon of dried thyme (fresh would be just as good, but use 2 teaspoons), 1 tablespoon of crushed black pepper, and a smidge and a bit more of cayenne pepper to give the soup a flavor. Don't add any salt at this point, because the ham is cured and will flavor the base.
While the vegetables are sweating, butcher the meat by cutting away any that's left on the bone. Don't worry about leaving little bits and dribs and drabs of meat on the bone. They'll cook off when the bone cooks in the simmering base.
Once the vegetables are sweated, add 3 quarts (12 cups) of water (The Motley Monk preheats the water in the microwave to speed preparations up a bit) and 3 teaspoons of bouillon or soup base. (The Motley Monk keeps ham base on hand in the refrigerator, just for this recipe. Chicken bouillon or a chicken-beef mix works just as well.) This also adds salt to the soup base; so, don't add any salt, yet.
Rinse one bag of split peas and add them to the soup base as it's heating up. Stir so that the peas, vegetables, and spices mix. Then, add the butchered ham bone to the base. Stir everything and cover the pot. On medium heat, bring to a boil and turn the heat down to let the base simmer.
The Motley Monk's Polish aunt left a lot of meat on this bone!
Meanwhile, chop and cube the leftover ham. Depending upon the amount of meat, add to the base while chopping and cubing.
"More is better than less" is The Motley Monk's rule because, once again, the consistency of the finished soup should resemble a stew rather more than homemade broth.
After adding the ham, stir the soup base, and bring to a boil. Then, replace the cover, turn down the heat, and let the base simmer. It will begin thickening after 20 to 30 minutes.
After the first bag of beans softens, use the back of a wooden or metal spoon to smash them against the side of the pot. The soup will begin thickening even more. Stir the base, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pot so that the base begins incorporating all of the ingredients.
Meanwhile, rinse the second bag of split peas and set aside.
After about 1 hour, grab a plate or shallow bowl and, using a tongs, remove the ham bone from the soup. Place on the plate (or in the bowl) to cool.
Add the second bag of split peas to the soup and stir until they are incorporated. Cover the pot and simmer the soup for another 20 minutes.
Once the bone is cool enough to handle, remove and chop any meat that's left on the bone. Add to the soup and stir.
After the second half of the split peas have cooked for 20 minutes, stir the soup and test it to balance the spices, especially salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. The balance depends primarily on the type of ham bone used. For example, a "honey roasted ham" produces a sweeter soup that needs only a bit of salt added.
Once the spices are balanced, bring to a high simmer and continue to cook the soup with the top ajar until the peas are al denté.
The split pea soup will be thick and jam-packed full of flavor. The Motley Monk serves the soup as a "stand alone" lunch, just like Dad did, because it's very filling. It would also make a great "comfort food" dinner, accompanied by some good french bread and a glass of burgundy. Serve The Motley Monk's dried-cherry and apple clafoutis for dessert and life doesn't get any better!
A postscript: The last time MJX delivered a ham bone, she tried some of Skip's soup. The Motley Monk now sends one half of the split pea soup in two containers not one. Why? MJX keeps one for herself and delivers the second to Skip.
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