Ready for something a bit more sopistimicated?  Let’s have a go at split-pea, which is probably my favorite soup on earth (or in outer space, for that matter).

It’s a purée soup, and there are a few guidelines for making them:

  • Sweat the mirepoix (classically, 50% onion and 25% each carrot and celery, and it’s pronounced meer-pwah) in butter, but don’t let it brown
  • Add whatever liquid you’re using
  • Add the main ingredient and a sachet or bouquet garni (a sachet is just a bunch of herbs and spices tied up in a little cheesecloth bag; a bouquet garni is similar but held together with string)
  • Boil, simmer, and let it cook until it’s all soft enough to purée.  Pluck out your sachet or bouquet garni
  • Save some of the liquid in case you need it to thin the soup later on.  Purée the majority of it with a food mill, food processor, immersion blender, counter-top blender, or even just a fine-mesh strainer and the back of a spoon or a ladle
  • Add enough of the reserved liquid to get it to a nice consistency.  You can add stock to it if you need to get it even thinner
  • Bring it back up to a simmer.  Taste it, and tweak the seasoning as you see fit
  • Add some cream if you want

Now that you know that, you can make a purée soup out of practically anything.  For now, though, we’ll stick with split-pea, which is pretty much a purée soup with training wheels.

Split-pea soup

3 oz. bacon, diced or in lardons, depending on how lazy you feel

1 lb. mirepoix, medium dice

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3 qt. chicken stock

1 lb. split peas (rinse them and go over them to make sure there aren’t any pebbles, sticks, or puppies in there–dried beans and peas are notoriously adulterated)

1 1/2 lb. ham hocks, meaty ham bones, or whatever ham-like scraps you have

a sachet of 2 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme, and 1/2 tsp. of crushed peppercorns

s & p

croutons

Render the bacon in a soup pot, and then add the mirepoix and garlic.  Let it get soft, but not brown.  Keep it on a low flame, and be especially vigilant with the garlic–there’s nothing worse than burned garlic, and there’s no way of fixing it.  Take your time.

Add the stock, peas, ham/bones, and sachet.  Yank it up to a boil, crank it down to a simmer, and let it cook until the peas are nice ‘n’ soft–an hour or an hour and a half, depending on how old they are.

Take out the sachet and whatever enormous wads of ham or bones are in there, and then put the soup through a food mill, or find some other way of puréeing it–immersion blender, food processor, etc., as I mentioned earlier.

Isolate all the decent ham meat that you can, remove it from its accompanying bone (if any), and cut the meat up fine.  Add the meat back to the soup.

Back up to a simmer, and check the consistency.  If it’s too thick, thin it with the reserved liquid or some stock.  If it’s too thin–which is very, very unlikely–you can thicken it with some roux, beurre manié, or cornstarch slurry (I know, we haven’t gotten to any of those yet), or you can leave it on a very low flame and let it reduce.  Taste it.  It will tolerate and benefit from a surprising amount of salt (which is true of most things), and plenty of pepper makes it much better.  By all means, don’t be shy with the pepper.  Garnish it with some crunchy, buttery, garlicky little croutons.  Super nice.

If you have a mind to–although I can’t imagine why you would–you can use white beans, lentils, yellow peas, or whatever other dried beans/peas instead.  Soak ’em in water overnight first.

For my money, I can’t think of a meal better than a ham & turkey on rye with mayo, mustard, and Swiss cheese, bowl of split-pea on the side.  Immensely satisfying, especially if your rye bread is a little toasty and you dunk it into the soup.

As long as we’re on the subject of immensely satisfying soups, we should probably review

Chicken soup with matzo balls

Very simple, and elegant in its own way.  It’s a shame that it’s been relegated to Jewish grandmother status, like a Henny Youngman joke.  It deserves closer attention.

4 eggs

2 oz. water

2 oz. schmaltz (chicken fat) or butter, left out to get soft.  I’ve never tried it with duck or goose fat, but I can’t imagine how that could go wrong

4 oz. matzo meal

salt and white pepper

Beat the eggs with the water, and stir in the fat.  Water and fat don’t mix, so don’t expect it to look homogenous.  Just get them neighborly.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir them up.  Your resulting matzo ball batter should resemble mashed potatoes.  Stash it in your icebox for at least an hour.  Get about half a gallon of water to a slow boil and drop ice cream scoops of the matzo batter into it–be gentle and careful.  We don’t want you to get splashed, and we don’t want the matzo balls to fall apart or get ragged.  Put a lid on the pot and let it simmer until the matzo balls are done, which takes a surprisingly long time–about half an hour.  Lift the beautiful, soggy, puffy dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon or something similar, and introduce them to some hot chicken soup.  Heaven in a bowl.

I guess we should talk about roux, beurre manié, and cornstarch slurry next.  On the other hand, I’m about due to post some more prose.  We’ll see which way it goes.

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