March 3, 2013

Split Pea Soup with Whole-Wheat Parmesan Croutons... a nod to Easters of my past

For all of my 27 years, and likely longer, my family has hosted our Easter holiday meal. It's a favorite season for me, and a day I look forward to year after year. I can almost smell the day in early Spring, slightly damp and cool; aunts, uncles, grandmas, cousins, gathering around trays of antipasto and clamoring loudly over glasses of wine as the ham bakes in the oven. If we're really lucky we'll get an unexpected bout of warmth and sunshine, enough for all the cousins play kickball or SPUD in the cul-de-sac for hours after dinner,  our bellies over-full as we distract ourselves until dessert. 

The Easter meal is always fantastic. Holidays are the best excuse to over-eat, of course. But there's another dish my father always had ready on the back burner... our post-Easter supper which used the best parts of the ham leftovers: Split pea soup. 

This soup is tied to my Easters past, when I still lived at home to enjoy it the nights after our guests had gone. My father had the bag of dried split peas already on the counter long before Easter, as a reminder to himself about the soup. Later, it simmered away on the stove with the ham hock for a boost of flavor. His pea soup was simple, salty. I loved it. Hunks of deep pink, almost red, chunks of our leftover ham were like prizes worthy of celebration, waiting in every bite... There were bits of sweet carrots that, admittedly, bothered me as a picky child but today feel like a craving in my memory. We'd eat it with big crusty bagels slathered in butter.

Could I create a soup like dad's and make it my own? 

Yes. Enter crisp bacon (another best of the pig, if I can't have a whole leftover spiral-cut!), hearty stock, pureed carrots, leeks, onions, and to top it off, crunchy fresh-made whole wheat Parmesan croutons. Be careful with this utterly addicting bread addition. I couldn't help but adorn each spoonful with a crispy crouton. My love for this soup was getting out of control. 

My own version of this pea soup has a texture as velvety as butter, thanks to the immersion blender, so there were no carrot hunks in sight. It is thick, savory, and truly lovely; just as Easter, just as the spring, and just as a memory of a wonderful dad with a trusty recipe.

I hope I did dad proud. 

Post-Easter Pea Soup: serves 4 generously
2-3 strips thick-cut Applewood Smoked Bacon
1 T. butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced leeks
1 T. salt
32 oz. chicken stock
1 bag (about 2.5 cups) split peas, rinsed
additional water as needed
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
1/4 t. ground nutmeg

*top with whole-wheat Parmesan croutons

Place a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Melt the butter, then cook the bacon until crisp and brown. Remove and set aside on a cutting board, reserving the fat in the pot. Add onion, carrots, leeks and salt, and saute until soft and fragrant, covered and stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.

Pour in the stock and scrape the bottom of the pot for any flavorful brown bits. Add the peas and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft to the bite, about 25-30 minutes, adding extra water to thin if necessary. Meanwhile, dice the cooked bacon into small hunks.

Add pepper and nutmeg to the soup, then puree with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Stir in the bacon. Season with salt and extra pepper to taste. Serve topped with whole wheat croutons.

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