|Pea and ham soup – a real winter warmer.|
In my last review on Scrumptious Scran – for the excellent The Apiary bistro – I mentioned how, at the end of a long winter, we often need something comforting (food-wise) to provide a bit of cheer. Spring, may be about to bring us warmer days and the year’s first crop of fresh produce, but even March can have a wintry sting in its tail.
When we can now skip to the supermarket to purchase out-of-season asparagus jetted in from South America, or fresh tomatoes grown at any time of year, it’s easy to forget that historically during this season people would mostly be cooking with produce harvested the preceding year, and preserved to last through the winter. Personally speaking I think that some of the best comfort food to be made uses these preserved ingredients, and a fine example of this can be found in a steaming-hot bowl of split pea and smoked ham hock soup.
|Split peas and flavourings about to be cooked.|
There’s something truly lovely about the look of this deep khaki-green concoction, punctuated with pink flecks of meat. But if it looks good, it tastes event better. Drying the peas imparts a really earthy mellowness to them, totally different to the taste of these legumes when fresh out the pod. By salting, then smoking the hock (or hough), the rich meaty flavour of this cut is further enhanced and transformed to yield (once simmered for a couple of hours) tenderly smoky, almost gamey meat. The further addition of good quality stock and some complimentary herbs and spices all combine to produce a splendidly tasty and filling dish. And what’s more, given that the ingredients are usually pretty cheap, it makes for an economical meal, too.
|Splendid simmering smoked ham hock (hough).|
Now it occurred to me that though this is a traditional dish, it isn’t one that can be enjoyed by non-meat eaters. However, I did think that the recipe could be adapted, leaving out the smoked ham and substituting in its place a couple of (rehydrated) dried sweet peppers, together with a teaspoon or two of smoked pimentón (paprika). This should provide a complimentary contrast in texture to the peas, together with an intense, smoke-tinged flavour. I’d be interested to hear back from anyone who tries the vegetarian alternative, but in the meantime I give you my own take on this scrumptious, winter warmer (with split peas and ham hock).
- 1 smoked ham hock of good quality – I tend to use those from Simon Howie.
- 500g packet of green split peas, soaked in water overnight.
- 2 small onions, peeled.
- A large carrot, scrubbed and chopped into large chunks.
- 3 bay leaves – fresh if you can get them.
- 4 cloves.
- A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stalks.
- About 1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock.
- Salt and pepper.
Preparation and cooking
- Place the ham hock in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Place in the fridge and soak for 24 hours – changing the water a couple of times – to remove excess salt resulting from the curing process.
- Drain the ham hock and place in a large pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for an hour and a half or so, until the meat is “fall off the bone” tender. Remove and set aside until the joint is cool enough to handle.
- Stud the onions with two cloves each. Place in a large pan together with the pre-soaked split peas, carrots and bay leaves. Cover with the stock (add a little more water if necessary) and bring to the boil. With a slotted spoon, remove any foam that rises to the surface. Turn down the heat and simmer the peas until soft (about an hour or so). When soft, remove the onions, carrots and bay leaves. Add the thyme leaves and either mash the peas, or puree with a hand blender if you prefer a smoother soup.
- When the hock is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and any excess fat. Using a couple of forks separate the flesh in strands, and then add to the pea puree. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. If the soup is very thick add a little water, then heat through until just simmering and serve in warmed bowls, with fresh bread and butter as an accompaniment.