Saturday, December 8, 2007

Smoky Split Pea Soup with Butter Toasted Croutons

Even in the southern California where I live, there are crispy Fall days when you can't get enough of being outside. For us, it was leaf raking and Fall tree pruning, and after a few hours I sneaked away to make a soup for ruddy cheeks and chapped hands!

Tonight's menu was a split pea soup with gently smoked pork chops, served with a garnish of fresh parsley and buttery toasted croutons, accompanied by a glass of ice cold Kirsch. Since I lightened the soup considerably from the traditional recipe, we could guiltlessly enjoy a dessert of sauteed apples and vanilla ice cream, with Lenotre's incomparable caramel sauce!

How the soup was lightened? The secret to avoid that thick as pea soup grog, which tires the tummies with all the mushy starch, was to use fewer split peas, proportionally more vegetables, and smoked pork chops instead of the usual ham bone, gelatinous pork hocks and smoked sausage. For meat, I chose a small amount of salt pork to help season the vegetables as they sauteed, then gently browned the diced pork chops before adding to the soup to help maximize their flavor. A 1/2 glass of white wine towards the end also helped to enrich the flavor without adding heaviness.

And, here is the recipe, for 4:

The Broth
6 cups water
1/2 onion studded with 2 cloves
Generous tsp of salt
Bay leaf
In a small saucepan, bring the water to boil with the half onion, cloves, bay leaf and salt. Simmer a few minutes, turn off and set aside for later.

1 cup Green Split Peas
1 cup diced onions
3/4 cup diced carrots (~ 2 carrots)
3/4 cup diced celery (1 to 2 stalks)
3/4 cup diced leek (1 leek)
3/4 cup diced celery root (1/4 the root)
Wash and pick over split peas. (Though rare nowadays, dried beans can have a stone or two mixed into the package!) Put beans with double the amount of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer two minutes and turn off heat. Let stand stand for at least 30 minutes while the rest of the ingredients are prepped.
Dice onions and reserve separately from other vegetables. Next, dice and set aside altogether the leek, celery and carrots. Large dice the celery root (see my separate posting about this marvelous vegetable!) and keep apart from the other vegetables.

1/4 cup salt pork, diced
3 smoked pork chops
In a medium soup pot, sautee the diced salt pork over low to medium heat to render as much of the fat as possible. Add a little light oil if the pork starts to stick. The rendering can take a good 15 minutes, so its good to start this before once the peas are up and before the veggies are prepped.
The smoked pork chops can be lightly browned once the soup is constituted.

3-4 thick slices good crusty bread, 1/2 inch cubes
2 tbspns butter - 1 tbspn light olive oil
1/4 cup minced curly parsely
Croutons can be made while the soup is simmering. Don't wait to the last minute - they take a good 15 minutes to toast up. A heavy cast iron skillet is great for toasting croutons. Ready the pan early by heating with a coat of good Start with a cooking spray is fine.

light olive oil, as needed
1/2 cup white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper

Assembling the soup
Add onions to the rendered salt pork and continue cooking over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Lower heat slightly, add the leeks-carrots-celery and sautee 8 minutes. Season with a sprinkle of salt. Remove and discard the studded onion from the seasoned water, rain and rinse the pre-soaked split peas, and add peas and broth to the vegetables along with the celery root. Bring the soup to a boil, partially cover and reduce heat to a lively simmer. Soup should cook at 30 to 40 minutes.

While the soup is cooking lightly brown over moderate heat the diced smoked pork chops in a pan coated with a little cooking spray. Immediately add the meat to continue cooking with with the soup.

Once the meat is in, begin preparing the toasted croutons. Melt butter and oil together in the microwave. Toss the cubed bread in a preheated seasoned iron skillet. As the bread begins to get dry and color, drizzle on some of the oil-butter, and toss to coat. Continue to add drizzle, turning and tossing the bread cubes so that all sides get brown and crusty. Once bread is golden brown, lower heat or set pan to the back of the stove while the soup is finished.

Raise the heat on the soup to a rapid boil, add 1/2 a glass of white wine or more. Let the soup bubble while you finely chop the parsley.

To serve, ladle a good helping of mostly meat and vegetables into each bowl, season with fresh pepper and parsley and then add a ladle of broth. Bring the skillet of toasted bread to the table and spoon a handful onto each bowl - croutons should sizzle as they land! Don't forget the kirsch!

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