Split Pea Soup

2010 January 2
by Ben Kaufmann

The recipe on the back of a split pea package illustrates how to cook if you want to minimize flavor. The key part is in the instructions, “combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil.” This amounts to nothing more than split peas in broth. There is no structure. No development of flavor.

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Instead we will start as we always do with a battuto with a vision for a soffritto that is big and dark. Split peas are sweet and can be cloying unless we balance them with a substantial base of flavors.

Ham

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If you have a leftover hambone, simmer it in a pot of water for an hour or so.

The Ingredients

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Onions, potatoes, carrots, split peas, celery, bacon, dried porcini. Even though we have some smoked ham to add later, I want some smoked bacon to go into the battuto. It gives me some fat and gets everything going in the right direction. Find top quality, naturally smoked bacon. Soak the porcini in a cup of warm water. Rinse the peas.

Il Battuto

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I used three onions (to support two pounds of split peas) along with the chopped bacon and some butter. This is a big battuto that takes a while to cook down. I started at medium high heat just to ensure that all the onion became soft before any of it might burn. Then I turned the heat up to high and cooked for a while more, stirring often.

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Before the onions get too dark, add the carrots and celery. Continue cooking until all is deeply brown and soft.

Porcini

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When the mushrooms are tender, remove from the water with your hands and gently sqeeze so the excess liquid goes back into the cup. Chop the mushrooms fine and add to the pot. Stir and cook for a minute or two.

Potatoes

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Peel and chop a couple potatoes into small cubes. Add to the pot and stir to coat. Without stirring the mushroom broth, gently pour into the pot, reserving and discarding the dregs. Saute the potatoes for a few minutes. Stir occasionally.

Split Peas

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Add the split peas.

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Stir and cook for a few minutes.

Ham Broth

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Strain ham broth and add to pot to cover the peas. Set heat to simmer. Stir occasionally.

Ham

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When the ham bone is cool enough to handle, remove any meat. Chop and add to soup when the peas are starting to become tender. Add pepper but no salt or the peas will break apart. Add more water or broth as necessary. The peas will need to cook at least an hour.

Ready to Eat

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When the peas are tender, taste soup and correct for salt. Add water so that the soup flows easily but is not too watery. However it should not be so thick that it sticks to your spoon. The flavors should spread easily and quickly across your palate, and the salt and liquid levels need to be right for this to happen.

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