Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Split Pea and Ham Soup

Matthew is normally excellent while running errands.  And I mean excellent.  I have a blast bringing him with me to different stores and shopping for various items, be they groceries, clothes, or housewares (his personal favorite).  However, this week an alligator on a leash would have been a better shopping companion then my maniacal child.  You know the behavior is bad when no less than four complete strangers feel the need to approach me with the following reassuring words of wisdom: "this phase will pass."

Well, it better pass or I might be pawning him off.

For example, I needed to make a quick run to a furniture store to pick up a stepping stool so Matthew can reach the sink to wash his hands.  It is getting more and more difficult for me to lift him and he is really anxious to reach the sink on his own.  Anyway, after he refused to eat his lunch, I packed him up and drove up to the store.  As we began making our way around, Matthew suddenly began complaining that he was hungry.  He was mysteriously too hungry to take a bite of his lunch just five minutes earlier (so full, in fact, that he felt the need to adequately express this point by trying to throw his entire plate of food off the table) but now, right in the middle of this quick little errand, he was suddenly STARVING.  I just shushed him and continued to the section where the cheap chairs and stools are.  Matthew continued to grumble along beside me, dragging his feet and making it very clear that he was not happy.

Anyway, I let go of his hand for about two minutes to inspect one of the stools.  When I look up, he has vanished and I immediately go into that typical Mom panic where you envision your child featured in the morning news headline for an abduction case.  I frantically began looking around and soon spotted my mischievous toddler sitting at one of the dining room table displays.  And what, pray tell, attracted him to that particular display?  The bowl of sparkling fake fruit adorning the center of the table.  Matthew had climbed up, pulled the bowl towards him, and proceeded to take a bite out of every single piece of fruit.  Each bite resulted in the disappointing taste of plastic, so he moved on to try the other fruit...I can just envision his little mind working: "perhaps this banana will taste better than those nasty grapes."

His rampage left each piece of fruit with a prominently displayed Matthew-sized bite mark.  And he had accomplished all this in under two minutes.

In the end, we did not leave the store with the step-stool I wanted.  However, we are the proud owners of an entire bag of bitten fruit.

On top of all this mania, the weather has been cold, rainy, overcast, and dreary.  The perfect weather for headaches.  We had a couple days in the 80s just two weeks ago and now we are barely edging our way into the 60s.  This type of weather calls for a warm bowl of soup.  And that is pretty much all we have been eating lately.

Split Pea and Ham Soup is one of Paul's favorites.  We typically make it using the leftovers from our holiday ham around Christmastime.  However, Paul has been craving it lately and so I whipped up a batch using a ham steak and it turned out divine.  Topped with buttered croutons (a must) and a good drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar (even more a must!), this is a comforting, hearty meal.

Split Pea and Ham Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
7 cups water
1 ham steak (about 1 pound), skin removed, cut into quarters
3 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces)
1 pound green split peas (about 2 cups), picked through and rinsed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 medium celery rib, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Buttery Croutons (recipe below)
Balsamic Vinegar (for serving)

Heat butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add onion and ½ teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add water, ham steak, bacon, peas, thyme, and bay leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer, stirring frequently to keep peas from sticking to bottom. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until peas are tender but not falling apart, about 45 minutes.

Remove ham steak, cover with foil or plastic wrap to prevent drying out, and set aside. Stir in carrots and celery.  Continue to simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender and peas have almost completely broken down, about 30 minutes longer.

When cool enough to handle, shred ham into small bite-size pieces with two forks. Remove and discard thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and bacon slices. Stir ham back into soup and return to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into individual bowls, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and top with buttery croutons.

Buttery Croutons
adapted lightly from Cook's Illustrated

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large slices high-quality sandwich bread (or whatever you have!), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
Table salt and Pepper

Heat butter and oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add bread cubes and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer croutons to paper towel-lined plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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