Here’s a real comfort soup – for me at any rate. My mother used to make big batches of it in winter.
1kg (about 2¼ pounds) bacon hock, rinsed
4.5 litres (about 8 pints UK/9 pints US) cold water
12 whole black peppercorns
1 large leek, trimmed, halved, washed and cut into short lengths
2 stalks celery, scrubbed and thickly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
Several parsley stalks
3 fresh bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, scrubbed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp butter
500g (about 1 pound) split green peas
1 small swede (rutabaga) , peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
Reserved meat from bacon hock
250g (about 8½ ounces) frozen spinach, thawed
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp chopped mint
1 To make the stock, place all stock ingredients in a large saucepan. Slowly bring to a gentle boil and skim off any foam. Partially cover with a lid and cook gently for 3 hours. Strain, setting aside bacon hock. When cool enough to handle, remove skin from bacon hock and discard. Remove meat, pick it over and set aside any appetising pieces. Chop meat coarsely and transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate.
2 Cool stock quickly (return it to cleaned pan and immerse pan in a sink of cold water; change the water once it gets warm) and refrigerate overnight. The stock should have set like a jelly with any fat risen to the top and set. Discard fat.
3 To make the soup, put onion, celery and carrots in a clean saucepan with butter and 1 tablespoon of water. Cover pan with a lid and cook vegetables over gentle heat for 12 minutes, or until very tender.
4 Measure bacon stock, making it up to 4 litres (just under 8 or 9 pints) with cold water. Thoroughly rinse peas in a sieve under cold running water until the water runs clear. Add peas to pan, stir, then add swede and stock. Bring to a gentle boil, skim, then swirl in thyme leaves. Set heat to very low, partially cover pan with a lid and cook gently for 2 hours.
5 Add reserved hock meat and cook for 15 minutes more. Purée thawed spinach in a food processor. Add to soup with parsley, mint and 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste. Heat through and serve.
Make the broth the day before you want to serve the soup. Its gruntier green colour – split pea soup tends to be a murky pale green – comes from adding spinach towards the end of cooking. For a fresh look, finish off the soup with a garnish of frozen baby peas, quickly blanched, and a good sprinkling of chopped mint.
The curious smell as pea and ham soup slowly plopped away on the stove, sort of earthy and starchy, and if you can imagine, a bit like potatoes boiled dry and caught on the bottom of the pot, mixed with a smell of fresh hay and a handful of fresh green pea pods, would fill the house regularly during my childhood. It would be on the stove at the ready after a busy Saturday playing sport, and nursing injuries or dented pride, it would soon see us right.
Photography Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com