Split Pea Soup

Cook's Illustrated, via

A meaty ham bone, roughly 2 ½ pounds (1.15 kg)
3 quarts (2.85 liters) water
4 bay leaves
1 pound (450 grams) split peas, about 2 ½ cups
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 medium celery stalks, diced
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, chopped
1 pinch sugar
3 small new potatoes, diced
Freshly ground black pepper, for serving

Put the ham, bay leaves, and water in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer, and cook until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2½ hours. Remove the ham meat and bone from pot. When the ham is cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Discard the bone and any excessive fat.

Add the split peas and thyme to the ham stock. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, uncovered, until the peas are tender but not yet dissolved, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables give off some moisture, that moisture evaporates, and the vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the butter, garlic, and sugar. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until golden brown, the color of honey, about 30 to 35 minutes. Set aside.

When the split peas are tender but not yet dissolved, add the cooked vegetables, the potatoes, and the shredded ham to the pot. Simmer until the potatoes are tender and the peas dissolve and thicken soup to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes more. (Remember that the potatoes will continue to cook slightly as the soup cools down.) Taste for salt, though you won’t likely need any, since ham is salty. Serve hot, with freshly ground black pepper.

Yield: says 6 cups, but that's wrong; both Matthew and I get nearly 4 quarts


Maple-Poached Quince

Adapted from The New Sugar and Spice, by Samantha Seneviratne

In Seattle, I’ve found quince at the farmers’ market in the wintertime, and I venture to guess that Whole Foods or another fancy-ish store might have it, too. I also hear that you can sometimes find it at Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

Oh, and everyone talks about how difficult and treacherous it is to peel a quince, but as long as I use my extremely cheap-and-trusty Y-peeler, it’s no biggie. Muuuuch easier than using a knife.

1/2 cup (120 ml) maple syrup, preferably Grade B
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
Pinch of kosher salt
2 cups (475 ml) water
2 medium quince (each about 9 ounces / 255 grams), peeled

In a medium saucepan, combine the maple syrup, cardamom pods, salt, and water. Whisk to combine.

Cut one of the quince into 8 wedges. Place one wedge, flat side down, on a cutting board, and use a sharp knife to cut a V-shape in the center, removing the seeds. Repeat with the remaining wedges, placing the prepared wedges in the saucepan as you go. Repeat with the second quince. (You’ll probably note, by the way, that the flesh begins to brown when it’s exposed to air, the way the flesh of an apple does; don’t worry too much, because the discoloration will disappear as the quince cooks.)

Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cover the pan loosely with a lid, leaving a small crack for steam to escape. (Since the quince will take a while to cook, you want to keep as much moisture in the pan as possible, but you do want to let a small amount of the liquid evaporate, so that it slowly reduces a bit.) Cook gently until the quince is very tender when pierced with a knife, approximately the texture of a canned pear. This may take as little as 50 minutes or as long as 2 hours, depending on your fruit. (Seneviratne advises that you keep an eye on the pot and add more water if needed to keep the fruit submerged until it’s ready, though mine didn’t come anywhere near needing it.)

When the fruit is tender, remove it carefully from the pan to a bowl or storage container, leaving the liquid behind. Fish out the cardamom pods, and discard them. Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer the poaching liquid briskly, stirring frequently, until it has reduced to about one-third of its original volume and is thickened like syrup. Pour the syrup over the fruit, and allow to cool completely.

Serve the cooled quince in wedges or slice it thickly, and be sure to drizzle it with syrup.

Note: Stored in an airtight container, the cooked quince will keep for up to a week.

Yield: 6 servings