My late father-in-law used to make soups and stews in massive quantities and bring them over to us on a weekly basis. They were almost always bland, but they were always hearty. Then, one day, he brought over a split pea soup that absolutely blew my mind. His wife went on and on about how good it was...and she was right. The difference this time was that he used a hambone in the preparation. This did not signal a sea change in his preparations: he never made it that way again, and I never asked him why (likely a combination of cost and the extra time required).
He also never wrote down a recipe in his life, so this is my take on a split pea soup, infusing the spirit of what he made that one time. I can't stress enough the importance of infusing the flavor of the piggy into the soup. Any pea soup I have tastes flat without it. I used ham hocks, and made my own stock the night before. You can just as easily buy a stock and simmer it with the ham hocks if you want to streamline the process a bit. The recipe shows both preparations.
And, for a bit of fun that my father-in-law would never have approved of, I've added snow peas at the end. These are more than just a throw-in, I think, and they really do add character to the soup.
For the Pork Stock
6 cups of water
2 smoked ham hocks
unused parts of leeks and fennel (these were leftover from another recipe...half an onion will also work nicely)
1 teaspoon rosemary
The Complete Recipe
4 cups of pork stock or 4 cups of chicken stock + 2 smoked ham hocks
1/2 pound dried split peas
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon butter
1/2 pound of ham, cut in chunks
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
4 ounces snow peas
1. Add split peas to a container with enough water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Allow to soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight. Drain and reserve the liquid.
2A. If preparing a stock: bring the water to a boil in a large pot, then lower to a simmer. Score the ham hocks. Add the stock ingredients and simmer for at least 2 hours without a lid, stirring occasionally. Pour ingredients through a sieve. If there is any meat on the ham hock, cut from the hock and reserve. Save the liquid in a jar and refrigerate overnight, then skim any fat from the surface.
2B. If not preparing a stock: bring chicken stock to a boil in a large pot, then lower to a simmer. Score the ham hocks. Add ham hocks and simmer with a lid on (to avoid losing too much to evaporation) for half an hour. Remove ham hocks. Save the liquid in a jar and refrigerate overnight, then skim any fat from the surface.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to a large pot on medium heat. Add garlic and stir continuously until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ham chunks and any reserved meat from ham hocks and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat starts to brown.
4. Add drained split peas to the pot and stir to coat. Add pepper and a pinch of salt. Heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.
5. Add bay leaf, Herbes de Provence, stock, and any reserved liquid from the drained peas, and stir to break up any clumps. Heat for an hour, until the peas are soft, stirring occasionally. Add water as needed if the soup is too thick. Remove bay leaf and discard. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
6. In a separate pan, melt the remaining butter on medium heat. Pan fry the snow peas until browned. Add to the top of the soup, and serve.