Make the most of your leftover Easter ham this year

(MINNEAPOLIS) STAR TRIBUNEApril 20, 2014 

I'm practical and hungry, a duo that makes leftovers the best part of any holiday meal. That's as true for the Easter ham as with any other platter of protein at a family gathering.

If you're near the end of a ham meal Sunday, no need to wait until your company has left before you start making stock for a delicious ham and pea soup. I never do. The process is as natural and efficient for me as putting away leftovers.

Dry split peas come in either yellow or green. The yellow ones are milder in flavor, though sometimes hard to find; the green taste, well, greener. Either works well.

Check through the split peas and rinse them before adding to the soup. When you're dicing the vegetables for the soup (which is different from when you are cutting them up for the stock), make sure that all of the vegetables are cut in the same size.

My preference is for them to be diced very small, but if you like larger chunks in your soup, by all means cut them that way. The bigger the pieces of vegetables are, the longer it will take for them to soften. This is a versatile recipe, so if you prefer more or fewer vegetables in the soup, add them accordingly. You're the cook!

SPLIT PEA SOUP

Serves 8.

For the stock:

Water

Ham bone

3 carrots, cut in chunks

3 or 4 ribs of celery, with leaves, cut in several pieces

1 large onion, cut in quarters

1 to 2 teaspoons peppercorns

2 bay leaves

For the soup:

3 carrots, diced

1 large onion, diced

4 ribs of celery, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (16-ounce) bag split peas (also see variation), picked over and rinsed

2 cups chopped or diced ham

Fill a large pot with 20 cups water and add the ham bone, carrot chunks, celery and onion. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat.

Simmer, uncovered, for at least an hour and up to a couple of hours, watching the level of water, adding more water if the level drops too much. (The liquid will reduce by about half if you simmer it for about two hours.)

Remove the soup pot from the heat and carefully strain the solid ingredients, discarding them. Refrigerate the stock to cool. (To protect the refrigerator shelf, I always put a potholder under the bowl when I put the hot liquid into the cold refrigerator.)

The next day (or once the stock is cool), skim off the fat that has solidified on top of the soup and discard it. Begin to warm the stock over medium heat.

Meanwhile, saute the diced carrots, onion and celery in oil for five minutes, until slightly softened. Add the cooked vegetables to the stock, along with the split peas, and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the soup for about 35 minutes, or until the peas are soft.

Add the ham in the last 10 minutes or so.

If you prefer the soup pureed, use a blender to puree it (if using a counter blender, do a few cups at a time). If you would like a little texture to the soup, skip that step.

Variation: Instead of split peas, use beans (cooked Great Northern or pintos are good), or add diced potatoes and cooked bacon, along with some greens and the usual carrot-celery-onion medley, to the stock.

Or use sweet potatoes with some greens in the stock. You also could make the soup with water, chicken or vegetable broth rather than the ham stock.

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