Although I did not live through the depression, I was taught to waste not, want not. This principle, passed down through the generations, has followed me through my life’s journey. The contents of my freezer is proof positive that the lesson is deeply ingrained in my psyche and often serves as inspiration for some of my finest culinary creations. I am talking about carcasses of various animals and fowl, fish bones, shrimp shells and the like. This creation, an old classic made new again, was born primarily from the presence of a ham bone just begging to be simmered among aromatics and made into something memorable.
I was thinking of something with beans when I spied the split peas. We have a long bittersweet history this legume and I. Our relationship began when I was a young adult and very poor. My roommate, who was in the same poverty boat as I, worked at a bagel bakery and there was a natural foods store a short distance from our house. The combination of misshapen bagels that she brought home daily and the inexpensive availability of bulk split peas at the local market made for a magic combination of cheap and nutritious that sustained us for many months. On a journey down memory lane, I decided to take the very meager recipe of onion, carrot, split peas and water and pork it up a bit. Three different cuts from the pig, smoked and delicious, a splash of dry sherry and rich chicken stock (homemade, of course, from those chicken bones in the freezer), elevated this humble dish to a place I never dreamed possible in my youth.
Totally improvising, I took the object of my inspiration, the ham bone, paired it with other flavor enhancers and the result was fabulous. Here is how it went down.
SPLIT PEA SOUP, PORKED UP Serves 6-8
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
This is a dressed up version of a comfort classic. Like grandma’s, only better!
4 slices apple wood smoked bacon (I used Neuske’s)
2 small onions, chopped
4 small carrots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. smoked sausage, quartered and sliced (I used Neuske’s smoked kielbasa)
2 bay leaves
1 ham bone
1 lb. split peas
6c chicken stock, plus more to adjust thickness, if necessary
½ c dry sherry
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a large heavy bottom pot, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve for later use.
- Add the chopped onion and carrots to the bacon drippings and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
- Add the smoked sausage (kielbasa) and cook until it begins to brown slightly.
- Add the bay leaves, ham bone and split peas and stir coating everything thoroughly with the drippings.
- Add the stock and sherry. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Partially cover and simmer for 2hrs.or until the peas have softened and are cooked through. Remove the ham bone, pull any remaining meat and return the meat to the soup. Remove the bay leaves, discard. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Thin with additional stock to desired consistency.
- Serve hot garnished with crumbled bacon.
Note: Soups are frequently better the day after so do not be afraid to make ahead. This soup may need additional thinning if it sits, so heat it up and adjust as needed.
If you are a fan of pork, as I am, nothing is better than pig, three ways. What better way to “Praise the Lard!” Joking aside, a little smokiness is a giant flavor enhancer for the often flavorless and lowly legume.
A very satisfying meal was created out of a little of this, a little of that. Before you discard those remains, ask yourself if they can be repurposed. It not only stretches your culinary creativity but has the added advantage of being easy on the pocketbook.
Until next time, turn your freezer into a bone graveyard and keep spreading the love, one creative dish at a time. From my freezer to yours, make it into something wonderful! Jeanne