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Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Taking pea soup to the next level

It's a marvelous collision -- the most magical, exciting time of the year, Christmas -- and yucky weather.
What a perfect matchup, because Christmas is always busy, busy, busy and it's wet, rainy and windy or freezing cold. Maybe even snowing.
No matter, then, how happy and hectic it might be inside, no never mind how nasty outside, our usual schedules and priorities must be met.
Soup for supper, obviously, and we have one today.
It's a time-honored, classic, old-fashioned potful, and it's every bit as good or maybe even better than the bowlfuls our generations in the past stuck a spoon in.
Executive chef Ryan Fichter of Thunder Burger in Washington, D.C., lets us in on his secret for this suppertime tradition, and adds this tip for serving great soup: "Enhance the soup's presentation by using a garnish.
"Also, most people prefer to have something with their soup, so choose the right addition, such as crackers, biscuits, muffins, bread or breadsticks.''
If biscuits are your choice, we have the how-to for those, too, courtesy of Sarabeth Levine. Known as the "Queen of the NYC Brunch,'' she has more than 30 years in the baking industry, nine restaurants, a bakery and a line of food products.
Tuck these recipes in a safe place, and then we'll be ready to make:
Thunder Burger split pea soup
1 pound (about 2 1/4 cups) green split peas
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large clove garlic, halved
1 herb bouquet (3 cloves garlic, 4 whole allspice, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon thyme, 8 sprigs parsley combined and tied in a rinsed piece of cheesecloth or placed in a bouquet garni muslin bag)
1-2 ham hocks
21/2 quarts water
Salt and pepper
Toasted croutons (recipe follows), and parsley or chives for garnish
Pick over peas and remove any stones. Wash and drain peas. Place in 4-quart pan with the vegetables, herb bouquet, ham hocks and water. Bring to simmer; skim scum off top of soup for several minutes, until scum ceases to rise.
Cover loosely and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until peas are tender, stirring occasionally in case they stick to the bottom of the pan.
Remove ham hocks and herb bouquet. Puree soup with a blender. An immersion blender works great for this -- if you are using a regular blender, take care to work in batches and only fill the blender halfway if the soup is still hot, and hold down the lid while blending.
If you want an exceptionally smooth soup, pass puree through a sieve.
Return puree to pot and heat to serve. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with croutons and parsley or chives.
If you want, don't discard ham hocks, but cut away outer skin and remove meat from bones. Dice meat and serve with soup.
Makes 2 quarts, 6 servings.
Toasted croutons
Take 2 or 3 slices of day-old French or Italian loaf bread, cut into cubes. Let dry out a bit (can put in a 200-degree oven for 10 minutes to help dry).
Melt a tablespoon or two of butter on medium-high heat in a large skillet. When hot, add bread cubes, spread out in a single layer. Let toast on one side, then turn to other sides. Add more butter if necessary.
Alternatively, you can toss the cubed bread with olive oil and let toast in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned.
Sarabeth's buttermilk biscuits
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch thick cubes
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a heavy-duty stand mixer, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Add the butter. Mix on low speed until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sizes of butter. Add buttermilk, mixing in just until dough barely comes together.
Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until dough is smooth. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and roll out a little more than 3/4-inch thick. Using a 2 1/4-inch fluted biscuit cutter, dipping the cutter into flour between cuts, cut out the biscuits and place 1 inch apart on the pan. Gently press scraps together (do not overhandle the dough). Repeat rolling and cutting.
Bake until biscuits are well risen and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm. To reheat biscuits, wrap in aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Makes about 16 servings.
Note: Sarabeth's recipe does not say so, but these biscuits can also be made perfectly satisfactorily with a food processor. Or by hand, the old-fashioned way, for that matter.
The next Forum will appear in Friday's comics section.
Story tags » Cooking

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