A surprise pea and ham soup

An oldie, and a goldie. Trouble is the season for great peas is not necessarily the season for great soups. But then again, I love ice creams when the weather is freezing.

My favourite soup of all soups is pea and ham. Somehow, the combination of subtle smokiness, chunks of boiled ham, and the brilliant freshness of new peas is irresistible. There are a million versions. This is a combination of old-fashioned flavour and new-fashioned panache. There are not too many ways you can go wrong. In fact, even if you go wrong, there’s a fair chance you’ll be right.

1 ham hock

500 g bacon bones

2 large carrots, chopped quite finely

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 sticks celery, chopped

1 leek, cleaned and chopped

2 onions, peeled and sliced

a little olive oil

zest of 1 lemon, chopped finely

3 sprigs of rosemary

50 g pack dried peas These are not simply dried peas, but fast- dried peas that cook quickly, straight from the packet, expanding as they go. They provide colour, flavour and some texture.

small bunch of chives, chopped roughly


white pepper

1 cup fresh shelled peas (about 500 g peas in the pod)

50 g butter

a few mint leaves


In the pressure cooker, or a large saucepan or stockpot, combine the ham and bacon bones, carrot, garlic, celery and leek with enough water to just cover. Bring to a full steam and allow to toil away for 25-30 minutes. If you’re doing this in a saucepan or stockpot, bring the lot to a boil and simmer for I-IV2 hours, until the ham and bacon are tender. You will need to skim the top of the stock occasionally to remove any impurities. This is done at the end, in the pressure cooker.


Strain, separating the vegetables from the ham and bacon. Set the vegetables aside. Allow the stock to cool, removing any fat that comes to the top. Remove the ham and bacon from their bones, discarding the bones. Shred the meat and set aside.


While the stock is cooling, cook the onion in a little olive oil until it softens. It should not be allowed to brown. This can be done in the microwave in about 10 minutes on high.


Dump the cooked onion, lemon zest and rosemary into the stock, and allow to cool again. This can be all done the night before, or several hours before the soup is finished.


Add the dried peas and chives to the stock and bring to the boil. Cook until the peas are done (about 10 minutes, or whatever it says on the packet). Remove the rosemary and discard.


Whizz the stock and its contents until smooth. Not all the peas will puree, but that’s fine. They provide a lovely under- flavour and a soft, yet different texture.


Add the shredded ham and bacon to the whizzed soup, and test for seasoning. It shouldn’t need much salt as the ham and bacon will be quite salty. Bring to the boil again, and add the fresh, shelled peas. Cook for about 30 seconds.


Remove from the heat, whisk in the butter and mix through some mint leaves. Serve with your best bread, and butter.

NOTE: The vegetables that were set aside in step 2 can be put to good use. Puree them with a stack of butter, salt, pepper and herbs and serve with a steak, or some fish. Vegetables left over from stockpots are marvellous in pilafs, particularly pilafs made with risotto rice.

Sherry is the perfect wine style for soups, but few of us these days bother to make the match. The great advantage is you can sniff it, take a sip, and plonk the rest in the soup, thus adding further flavour.

• Pressure cookers make better stocks, because the intensification factor is given a quadruple boost by the enclosed space. How does a pressure cooker work in this way? Try this. Get some clean socks and sprinkle some aftershave over the socks, and leave them in an airy space for a day. Get another pair of the same sort of socks, and add the same amount of aftershave, and put them
in a plastic bag. Leave them for a day. Check the aromas at the end of the day. The plastic bag is just what happens in a pressure cooker: all the great aromas are retained, they don’t drift away. If anything, they are intensified.

• The only disadvantage of the PC is that it can make only a couple of litres of stock, but who, catering as we do for less than a football team, needs more? A stockpot, however, is a must if you ain’t got a PC.

• When roasting meats, you can make a sauce or stock at the same time as the meat is roasting. Just have some liquid and stock-loving vegetables hanging about in the bottom of the roasting pan. When the meat is done, deglaze with the liquid. Makes a great, easy, instant sauce. Just think ahead.