Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Perfect Soups" by Anne Willan - German Split Pea Soup

Date I made this recipe: November 9, 2008

Perfect Soups by Anne Willan
Published by: DK Publishing Inc.
ISBN: 0-7894-2853-9 © 1994, 1998
Recipe: German Split Pea Soup – p. 86-89

Well this week, I was, as my mother used to say, “busy, busy, busy,” such that I didn’t have time until now (almost a week later) to post this recipe for German Split Pea Soup.

As far as pea soups go, my mother was the standard-bearer for how split pea soup should be: as thick as all get-out, such that a spoon could stand by itself if necessary. Mom’s recipe was simple, calling for peas, carrots, onion, potatoes and one ham bone (as opposed to ham hock), usually left over from a ham Sunday dinner.

By comparison, the pea soup served by my grade school, Sacred Heart Catholic School, is a shining example of something that should never be called pea soup, much less soup. Sacred Heart’s version was ground peas (yes, if “split” peas are good, pulverized peas were better) and water. Thirty eight years after being served my last bowl of that slop, I still have nightmares. (And so it’s amazing that I made this recipe!)

This recipe falls somewhere in between greatness and disaster. The soup wasn’t overly thick or thin but there were issues. First and foremost was the fact that despite extending the cooking time by at least another hour, the peas never softened up and in all the years I’ve been making pea soup, that’s a head-scratcher. The cookbook author gives you the option of soaking the peas in cold water for eight hours in order to shorten the cooking time, but never before have I experienced problems with peas. It might be because I used green split peas instead of yellow (I couldn’t find yellow) but I doubt it.

Next was the general lack of flavor of the soup. My mother’s was robust but here, even with the addition of dark beer, the flavors fell short. The ham hock added some flavor but not much and my husband was not overly impressed with the frankfurters. So I don’t know—you might try experimenting with it and maybe add some additional spices to see what happens…or you might be fine with it the way it is. It’s not that we snubbed it in favor of other foods because we at it to the last drop (probably because my mother's voice was in my head admonishing me against wasting food!) but it could have been way better.

Anne included "how to" photos in her book that I must say helped quite a bit because my diced vegetables were exquisite. Left to my own devices, I likely would have been a lot more cavalier with the whole thing.

Finally, I didn’t realize until I was dicing vegetables and watching my Packers play that I had subconsciously selected a green pea…or yellow pea soup recipe for the annual Packer/Viking game. (Green and gold are Packer colors). But alas, it didn’t help as my Packers lost by 1 point having missed a last-minute field goal. That’s okay, we beat them earlier in the season so now we’re even-steven! Perhaps if my Packers had just had some hearty soup in advance of playing things might have been different. Food for thought (pun intended!)

German Split Pea Soup – Serves 6-8
Work Time – 35-40 minutes; Cooking Time 2-2 ¼ hours (or longer)

2 large onions
½ lb carrots
½ lb potatoes
½ lb rutabaga
2 celery stalks
1 cup dried yellow peas
3 whole cloves
1 bouquet garni, made with 5-6 parsley stems, 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 1 bay leaf
1 smoked ham hock, weighing about 1 lb
1 quart water, more if needed
2 cups dark beer
Salt and pepper
½ lb frankfurters
1 medium bunch of parsley
1 tsp mustard powder

Peel the onions and trim the tops, leaving a little of the roots. Chop into a small dice.

Peel the carrots and trim off the ends. Cut each carrot across into 2-inch pieces. Cut each piece lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Stack the slices and cut them into 4-6 strips together and cut into dice.

Peel the potatoes and follow the directions above for dicing; same with the rutabaga.

Peel the strings from the celery with the vegetable peeler. Cut the stalks lengthwise into ¼-inch strips, then crosswise into a dice.

Put the split peas into a strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Pick over and discard any stones. Leave the split peas to drain.

Assemble the bouquet garni using a cheese cloth and string. The author says to tuck the cloves into the string tied around the bouquet garni but it seemed easier just to include them in the cheese cloth packet and call it a day.

Combine the diced vegetables and split peas in a casserole and add the ham hock, water, bouquet garni, dark beer, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface, then cover, and simmer until the split peas are very tender, 2-2 ¼ hours (Or not as I found out! After 3 ¼ hours, I still had some not-so-tender peas on my hands but we were starving and so I gave up!) Stir the soup from time to time and add more water if it seems too thick.

Meanwhile, using a chef’s knife cut the frankfurter into ½-inch slices on the diagonal. If you are going to add chopped parsley as a garnish, chop them now and reserve until the very last minute.

Put the mustard powder into a small bowl. Spoon in 1-2 T of the hot soup liquid and stir together well until the mustard powder has dissolved completely. Reserve.

Remove the ham hock and bouquet garni from the casserole. Let the ham cool slightly, then pull of any meat and chop coarsely, discarding any skin and fat. Return the ham to the soup.

Add the frankfurters and cook gently without boiling until they are heated through, 3-5 minutes.

Stir in the mustard mixture and most of the chopped parsley. Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

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