JUSTIN WELSH: Food Muse — Split Pea And Ham Soup

Some chefs have those “hanging out in the kitchen” moments with a grandparent or a mother. I did not.

The style of food I grew up with was a budgeted one. The house bank account was structured that X amount of money went here or there, and that was that.

So, when it came time for a purchase at the grocery store, meals were set to that budget. There was no elaborate food being produced in the kitchen. No fresh pasta or homemade tomato sauce. Nothing fancy like lobster or beef tenderloin.  All of it came to a set price point per meal, and what was made is what you ate.  My father, of course, the provider for the family, always got the last bite.

This does not mean I don’t have memories of food. I was asked the other day what kind of cookie made me happy, and I remember this ginger cookie my stepmom made with an icing on it. She had to hide them from us, otherwise they didn’t stand a chance.

Another thing she made for us was split pea soup. I am certain I said yuck when I first saw it, but man was it good. I believe a ham bone was thrown in after a holiday, which really made it nice. Those extra little bits of the smoked hock would fall off into the soup and give it an added flavor that satisfied a hungry boy’s palette.

I made some at a previous job, and when my father came in to eat one day, he tried it and really enjoyed it. This made me happy. One, because I cooked something I knew he ate while we all grew up, and two, my dad is one the pickiest and most unadventurous eaters I know.

I have made a fresh version of this soup, minus the ham, and added some cream for richness. We grow peas each year, and I always make a batch using fresh peas. The color is super bright, and the taste is just as delicious. I will share both versions for you.

Split Pea and Ham Soup
3 cups split peas
2 tablespoons oil
2 diced carrots
1 diced onion
Ham soup bone (Best if it still has meat on it; if just the bone, also add ½ to ¾ pound diced smoked ham.)
Undetermined water
Salt and pepper, to taste
I will often say “to taste” with salt and pepper. This simply means add in small quantities and always check the levels at the end. Peas, beans and other legumes often will absorb a lot of the salt, which in turn hides it. Too much salt cannot be taken away, so adding in small doses is best.

1. Chop your vegetables. Make them a medium-sized diced. This soup takes a little while to cook, and the vegetables will add a nice flavor along with the ham.
2. Heat a soup pot and add oil. Once hot, add vegetables and cook on medium for about 5 to 8 minutes, at which time they will just start to brown.
3. Add peas and ham, then cover with water. I put undetermined before the amount of water. This is because it may change a little bit each time and because I have never measured the amount of water it takes.
4. Turn up to medium high and cook for roughly 45 minutes to an hour. Add more water as the soup thickens. When the peas begin to break down, test to see how done they are. When they are completely soft, you can add water if it is too thick. If it is too watery, then simply let it simmer and thicken.
Freeze what extra you may have for a future date. Holds well in a freezer up to six months. That, of course, if it lasts that long.

Fresh Pea Soup
2 to 3 cups fresh peas
½ small diced onion
1 tablespoon oil
¼ cup cream or half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Dice onion small. Heat pan and add oil and onion. Cook lightly for about 5 minutes.
2. Add peas and cover with enough water almost to cover. Fresh peas have some moisture in them, so they don’t need to absorb as much as their dried counterparts.
3. Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, just until the peas are cooked.
4. Add cream or half and half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add to a blender and puree.
This one eats well both cold or hot. You can also get English about it, and cook it thicker and spread over a nice toasted and buttered slice of rustic bread.
Enjoy and stay warm!

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