When I was a little girl I used to love to go to the library. It was such a fascinating place. I loved the high ceilings, the wood paneling and, to my amazement, they had a section just for kids with child-sized tables and chairs, and books … so-o-o many books! I’d spend hours at the library completely entertained. On long holiday weekends and over summer vacation, we used to take a trip to visit my grandparents. On one visit, I was about 8 or 9 years old, when it was time to pack up and go home, no one could find me. I remember hearing about how they searched the neighborhood because I was nowhere to be seen. Where was I? At the library!
What does any of this have to do with soup? In the library I would always search for my favorite book, STONE SOUP. STONE SOUP is a story about three soldiers who come into a small village. They are tired and hungry, but have no food (just a big pot). The villagers are unwilling to feed them so the soldiers have to become resourceful. They build a fire, fill their pot with water, set it over the fire to boil and then plop in a big stone! What happens next? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Back to today … it’s winter, it’s cold and it’s time to make the soup! I’ll make a few in the next couple of weeks, but today I’m starting with one of my Dad’s favorites, an old fashioned Split Pea and Ham. This is one of the heartiest and most economical soups I know … STONE SOUP perhaps?
For me, making soup always takes two days. One day to prepare the stock, the second day to finish the soup and enjoy. Of course, you don’t have to make your own stock. Pre-made stocks have come along way and are very good.
SPLIT PEA AND HAM SOUP
2 to 3 lbs. ham hocks (I like smoked)
2 large onions
2 large carrots
2 large stocks celery
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 lb. dried split peas
Have a large, heavy stock pot ready. Into it, put the ham hocks. Then rough cut the onions, carrots and celery and add them.
Cover everything with water (about 8 cups). Add the bay leaves and season to taste. Don’t be too generous with the seasoning. You can always adjust later.
Bring all this to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, cover tightly and leave it alone for about 4 hours.
At this point you can rehydrate the dried peas – by placing them in a large bowl and covering them completely with cold water for 4 to 6 hours – while the stock is cooking, or you can leave it for later.
Peek if you want to, but soup does its best work when left alone.
After about 4 hours the vegetables should have just about disintegrated and the meat should have completely fallen off the bone.
Now it’s time to strain the stock. Get a large pot and place a colander in it. Pour the stock into the colander to strain out all the bones and bits.
Let everything cool down and then pick through the bits in the colander, discarding the bone, skin and whatever you don’t want. Be sure to remove the bay leaves.
At this point, I put everything in the frig til the next day.
If you haven’t rehydrated the peas yet, now’s the time to rinse them, discarding any you don’t like the looks of.
Place the peas in a bowl and cover them completely with cold water.
Cover the bowl and let the peas sit for at least 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
After the stock is completely cool, it should have a nice fat cap on the surface, which can easily be skimmed off.
Drain the peas and toss them into the pot. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and let cook for about an hour (or more).
A good stir or two will let you know if the peas have been reduced to a nice thick consistency. Taste to adjust the seasoning and serve.
Serve with crusty bread and a tossed green salad. Hearty, flavorful and absolutely delicious! The perfect lunch or dinner for everyone this winter!!