Pea and Ham Soup.

Although this soup is warm and satisfying it has a fresh, vibrant character which makes it very suited to the longer evenings and (hopefully) warmer weather! Frozen peas are ideal for this dish (unless you grow your own peas) as they are generally much fresher than the so-called fresh peas available in supermarkets. This is because they are frozen within hours of being picked and therefore the intensity of colour and freshness of flavour is preserved.

1 small onion
1 carrot
1 stick of celery
1 bay leaf
4 whole black peppercorns
1 ham hock
2 litres of water
50g of butter
200g of shallots
75g of pancetta/bacon lardons
2 cloves of garlic
650g of frozen peas
salt and pepper
2 bacon rashers

For the stock, halve the onion, carrot, and stick of celery and place into a large stockpot. Add one crushed garlic clove, a bay leaf, the peppercorns, two litres of water and, of course, the hock itself. Bring to the boil; skimming any scum from the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for two hours until the ham is cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Strain through a fine sieve, keeping the hock to one side.

For the soup, heat the butter in a large pan; add the finely diced shallots, pancetta/lardons, and the other clove of garlic. Sweat over a low to medium heat for ten to fifteen minutes or until the shallots are tender but not really coloured. Add the stock, bring to the boil, and again if any scum forms, skim it off. Add 500g of the frozen peas and return to the boil. Puree in either a liquidiser or using a stick blender. Pass through a sieve (to remove pea skins, remaining shallots etc.) into a clean pot. Bring back to the boil and season if necessary – if the soup is too thick add a little water.
Shortly before serving slice the bacon rashers into strips and fry in a hot pan until crisp. Flake the meat from the ham hock and cook 150g of the frozen peas in salted boiling water. Divide the peas and ham between your bowls (you should get 5-6 portions), ladle the soup on top and sprinkle with a little of the crispy bacon – a drizzle of the bacon fat can also add a fantastic flavour just be careful it is not too salty.

This is a lovely little dinner party starter, just be careful to halve (at least) the portions as this is quite a rich soup. Serve with a drizzle of pouring cream and a sliced ciabatta – the ciabatta compliments this soup perfectly, it’s not too dense, it’s slightly salty and the crispy texture makes for a perfect texture combination.

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