Winter Warming Pea and Ham Soup
Pea and ham soup is another old fashioned recipe that is still popular with young and old and is a great winter warmer. The two essential ingredients are not frozen peas and sandwich ham as the name suggests but dried, green, split peas and smoked ham hock or pork knuckle. Split peas are a nutritious source of fibre, protein and carbohydrate and when slow cooked with the ham hock the dried peas break down to a lovely creamy texture and a less jaw exercising way to consume dietary fibre. McKenzies green split peas are available in all supermarkets and even has the recipe on the pack of the bag, although I do like to use two bags for each ham hock for an extra thick soup and for some to freeze away. Most recipes add a chopped brown onion, carrot, celery, parsley and bay leaves to the mix for some aromatics but it is not crucial, an onion would suffice. Don’t add salt to the pot as the hock will be salty enough and pre-packaged supermarket brands will be quite salty. To reduce the salt a bit you can cover the hock in cold water, bring it to the boil and then discard the water and start with fresh water but I would recommend buying the ham hock at a quality butcher that does the curing and smoking themselves. I love Donati’s (402 Lygon St., Carlton) smoked hocks as they are not too salty, have plenty of meat and a pleasant smoky flavour. Try also Cannings (Kew, Hawthorn, Malvern, Ivanhoe), Hagens (Richmond, Sth. Yarra), Obelix and Co (Fitzroy Nth) and my other favorite place, Walmas (Bayswater).
Ask the butcher the cut through the hock bone once, this will aid the cooking process, accommodate the hock if you only have a smallish stock pot and also help when you come to pull it all apart to remove the meaty bits for the soup. Yes, once you have bunged everything in a large stock pot, covered it with water and simmered for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, you will have to remove the hock, let it cool a little and then remove the thick skin, bone and fatty bits with a small knife. You will be discarding quite a bit but there will still be ample delicious meaty chunks to cut up into bite-sized pieces for the soup. Blend the soup while the hock is cooling on the bench with a stick blender and then add the meat back. Season with freshly ground black pepper and enjoy.