Saturday, February 17, 2007

Split Pea Soup

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For the Chinese New Year of the Pig I’ll be finishing out my pork dishes.

This luxurious soup was made from that citrus-sweet pork shoulder way back when. (This blog is not exactly in Real Time-- although I suppose it is possible I froze the bone).

The weather this past week has been frigid. Growing up in the Chicagoland area, I can handle the cold (my school was once canceled because it was too cold to go outside, i.e. frostbite in under 1 second). When I first moved to New York City almost 10 years ago I used to (for brief stints outside) wear t-shirts in 30 degree weather. People thought I was crazy, I proclaimed it was the Chicagoan in me keeping me warm. But when winds blast exposed skin so it feels as though it is peeling right off your face… Well, that makes we want to crawl into a small room with a blazing fire and never leave.

When it is this cold outside and you can feel the cold shoot from the pavement through your shoes and freeze your bones, hot meals are all the more soothing. There is little better than the natural heating power of a steaming bowl of soup to keep you toasty (okay, maybe a steaming mug of hot cocoa or tea). This a the perfect soup for the blah weather. It is silky rich and deliciously filling with a little croute on top or crispy bread on the side.

My freezer is full of frozen individual portion sizes of soups. Once frozen and mixed up, they often turn into a game of surprise lunches that D and I will regale in after work: “Ooooh, I had that swiss chard soup from this summer-- even better warm!” or “I thought it was the ginger carrot, but once hot I realized it was the winter squash.” The supply sometimes seems endless and the addition of this split pea is a welcomed one. How else do you think D and I have had nary a sneeze these past two winters (forgetting the recent bout of food poisoning that just reinforces the benefits of home eating).

I remember my mother used to make split pea for us in the winter. Just before serving she would float hot dog slices into the soup (how very Chicago of her). As kids, we loved it and I distinctly remember plucking each hot dog piece out with my fingers and shoving my whole fist happily into my mouth, licking it clean in the process.

These days, I don’t need that extra salty kick of a hot dog to eat this soup (I prefer the kick of a little bacon). Once the split peas soften into the broth, this soup is deceivingly thick. If I didn’t make it myself I would swear there was gallons of cream laced into this creation. In fact, the only cream is the (optional) tablespoon I floated on top before serving.

This is the kind of soup that can melt you out of the warm house, allowing you to brave the nasty elements outside. It is filling on its own, paired with a light salad or a good sandwich.

Serving Size= 8-10. Active time= about 20 minutes. Inactive time= about 2 hours.
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* ½ pound bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces (optional and used instead of butter and olive oil)
* 1 large sweet onion, chopped
* 2 stalks celery plus leaves, chopped about 3 inches long
* 2 carrots, chopped about 3 inches long
* pork bone, the shoulder works well
* 10-12 cups water
* 2- 12 ounce bags green split peas, washed and brown ones discarded
* ½ cup loosely chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
* 2-½ teaspoons cumin
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Warm a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until browned, about 8 minutes. Remove bacon set aside. Keep about 2 tablespoons of fat in the stock pot, discard the remaining, soaking it up with a paper towel. (If not using bacon, warm the butter and olive oil and continue).
2) Add onion and sauté until translucent; about 5 minutes.
5) Add celery, carrots and pork bone, sauté about 5 minutes. Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and uncover slightly.
6) Let simmer until pork bone begins to break down and smell infiltrates the air, about 1-½ hours. Add split peas, parsley, cumin and pepper. Follow directions for cooking length on back of package, usually the peas need about 30 minutes to cook.
7) Peas will have absorbed most liquid. Add salt to taste. Remove bone and cut any remaining pork into bite-sized pieces, add to soup. Additionally, if any pork remains uneaten from shoulder, about 2 cups of bite-sized pieces can be added to the pot. Add bacon, stir until evenly combined.
9) Serve plain or with croutes and a little heavy cream and/or parsley flakes drizzled over top.

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