Whenever I visit my folks, my mother insists on packing up a tasty morsel (or two) for me to take home; this week, a smoked ham hock. As we’re on frugal diet month I made a little go a long way and chopped it up to add a delectable smokiness to hearty soups. One of my favourites is the classic combo of peas and ham. In the deep midwinter I’d use dried split peas, but in celebration of the long-awaited spring, which I dare say has finally arrived, I use a pack of frozen. Ready to eat in less than fifteen minutes, I added a poached egg and rye croutons for a more substantial meal.
If I’d boiled the ham hock, I’d add the stock. I never use stock cubes in soups and the likes. Actually, I haven’t used stock cubes (or the ‘posh’ variants) for years and find the taste too artificially overpowering, even if the slightest amount is added.
I just add water and the odd carrot or celery stick whilst cooking the soup, and in this case, a splash of cider, lemon peel, a spring of rosemary and a bay leaf. I think sweating off the leek slowly in a knob of butter and the correct seasoning is all it needs. Don’t be scared of salt, after all, there is plenty of it hidden in the stock cubes. I advocate using a good course sea salt. Not only do I find that I’m using much less weight for weight, but I reckon there is a subtle complexity to the flavour from the presence of other trace minerals. Or is it my imagination…
RECIPE: Pea, ham and leek soup
A knob of butter
The white part of a large leek, halved and thinly sliced
A couple of chunks of smoked gammon trimmings, or 2 rashers of streaky bacon
A 500g pack of frozen peas
A spring or rosemary
A strip of lemon peel
A large bay leaf
A wine glass of cider
Enough water to just cover the vegetables (see picture) or homemade stock (more or less 750ml depending on how thick you like it!)
A sprinkle of salt and grinding of pepper
METHOD: Sweat the leek (and the streaky bacon if using) off in the butter on a low heat for five minutes, until it is softened and translucent, with the chopped cooked gammon, herbs and a strip of lemon rind, pared off using a vegetable peeler. Add the peas, a splash of cider and enough boiling water or ham cooking water (or stock if you prefer) to cover the vegetables. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes until the peas are cooked. Remove the bay and rosemary and blitz in a food processor before seasoning. This soup can easily be made vegetarian sin ham, but you might like to add a little grated parmesan as a garnish. Serve with crusty bread and a dollop of crème fraiche and mint, or plop in a poached egg and rye croutons for a more substantial supper and enjoy.