Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Quick pea and ham soup

This hearty, warming soup is incredibly easy to make and can be almost flung together from ingredients you already have. It's a good way to use up leftovers too, which is how I usually put it together. This makes two portions.

One of the butchers in my neighbourhood has a hot counter, selling cartons of stew and roast chicken quarters. He also sells huge baked ham shanks for just £2. I sometimes bring one home for lunch and stuff some of the hot juicy meat into a bap with nothing more than some sliced tomatoes.

There's quite a bit of meat on a ham shank, though - when it's cooled I strip off the leftovers and make stock from the bone. The rest of the meat I use for lunchtime sandwiches, or it might go into an omelette. And it's perfect for soup.

What you need:
1 onion or 1 leek, roughly chopped
I largeish baking potato, cut into small cubes
About a litre of stock
2 servings of frozen peas
Ham, a generous handful

What to do:
Heat a little vegetable oil in a large heavy saucepan. Sauté the onion in a medium heat until it's soft and translucent. Pour in the stock and add the potato. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peas, bring back to the boil then simmer for another 5 minutes. 

Chop the ham into tiny pieces and add about 2/3 to the soup. Using a stick blender, blitz the soup until it's almost, but not quite smooth so you can still see little bits of pea. Add the rest of the ham and season to taste.

Cook's tips:
The meat is what really gives this soup the flavour, so don't use supermarket slices as they tend to be tasteless and watery. It's essential to source proper ham. If it's on the bone, even better, as you can make stock with it (boil in water for 2 hour, or 1 hour in a pressure cooker, with some fresh bay leaves, an onion and a dozen juniper berries).

Don't season until the end - the ham may be salty enough to bring up the flavour of the other ingredients. If you don't have homemade stock, a ham or chicken stock cube is fine but they tend to be quite salty. Let everything cook together then check for seasoning. I like plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

I almost never peel potatoes as the skin has all the fibre and most of the vitamins. It also brings a little more texture to the soup. Baking potatoes are great for soup as they soften wonderfully when boiled, in a way you'll never get from using new or salad potatoes.

For a more luxurious finish, stir in a dollop of crème fraiche or some single cream before dishing up.