Friday, November 18, 2011

Hearty Split Pea and Ham Soup

A couple of days ago, I shared a fool-proof recipe for holiday ham that is as simple as it is delicious. Now, assuming you went right out and bought your ham, basted it in its dreamy honey-and-brown-sugar glaze, and served it up with some glazed carrots and mashed potatoes, you're probably beginning to wonder what to do with the leftovers. Because somehow, no matter how tasty the roast, ham always leaves leftovers.

Well, the next few days should give you a few ideas (though not as many as I'd hoped - I guess our ham proved a little too tasty and we ran through the leftovers pretty quickly), and because I believe good things don't just come to those who wait, I'm sharing one of my favorites today.

Split Pea Soup is the perfect meal for this time of year, when the temperatures are dropping and we begin to crave warm, hearty, stick-to-your ribs fare. Luckily, this recipe only tastes decadent; it's actually pretty healthy and it's a great way to get your fill of veggies. Studded with tender carrots and stuffed with chopped ham, this soup has a slight sweetness to it (that's the honey glaze talking) that provides a great contrast to the slight saltiness of the ham. Serve with fresh, aromatic wedges of homemade bread or a nice hunk of pumpkin cornbread, for a seasonal touch.

Hearty Split Pea and Ham Soup

1 bag (16 oz) dried split peas
1 large ham bone from roast, cooked and pared, but with some meat attached
1 cup cooked, chopped ham
2-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (you can substitute olive oil for a non-dairy version)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 or 2 carrots)
8 cups water*
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
Pinch ground cloves (optional)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

*You can substitute beef stock or drippings from the roast ham (which I heartily recommend, for added sweetness!) for some of this liquid

Wash peas in a large colander and drain them, picking over them carefully to remove any small stones. Set aside. Melt the butter over medium heat, in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and saute until lightly browned and aromatic. Add the carrots and saute until just softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the drained peas, water, bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, cooked ham and ham bone. If desired, add reserved roasting liquid from the ham now (if you've roasted your ham according to my Never Fail Recipe, this liquid will be slightly sweet and spiced with cloves - this adds a whole delicious new dimension to the soup!). Bring to a boil and simmer gently, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours or until peas are tender and the liquid is greatly reduced (you can add more water if the mixture becomes too thick or dry).

Once the peas are cooked and the soup is thick and fairly smooth, remove and discard the bay leaf. Remove the ham bone and cut away any remaining meat, adding it to the soup. Discard the bone and season the soup according to taste. For a smoother consistency, puree the soup with an immersion blender. Serve with croutons, a parsley garnish, a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese, or some additional diced ham.

A few notes: Once the prep work is done (i.e. roasting the ham), this soup is a breeze to prepare and it's also very forgiving; I actually left mine on the heat for a significantly longer amount of time and ended up with a very creamy, perfectly smooth soup that didn't even require blending (I guess that's what happens when you lose track of time at the gym!).

This recipe is a great way to make use of any leftovers from a roast ham, but you could also make it with a cooked ham hock. You can also amp up the veggie content, if you wish, by adding a few extra carrots or some chopped celery. With the reserved brown sugar-based liquid from the original roast and a few whole cloves tossed in for good measure - I used the ones which had studded the ham - this soup is slightly sweet and has a great complex flavor.

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