I just put a couple gallons of split pea soup into the freezer (and had a bowl for dinner). This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, mainly in that it uses some smoked ham hocks that we had in the freezer instead of ham steak and bacon.
If you’ve forgotten to thaw the ham hock, take one (around half a pound or so) and put it in a dutch oven or soup pot with 7 cups of water, bring that to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover, simmering for maybe 15 minutes to thaw the hock. Meanwhile, in a separate frying pan, sweat one diced medium to large onion (I used a red onion) with a couple tablespoons of butter and a large pinch of salt. Add two or three minced/pressed cloves of garlic and mix for 30 seconds or so — not long enough to burn the garlic. Then add the contents of the frying pan to your soup pot with the ham hock.
If you were smart and thawed the ham hock in advance, you can save yourself dirtying a frying pan by doing the onions and garlic in your soup pot, then adding the water and ham hock.
To the soup pot (which now contains a ham hock, onions, garlic, and water) add: 1 pound of split peas (recipes always say to rinse and pick through peas, but I’ve never once found a rock or anything else, so I dunno), two large sprigs of fresh thyme, and some bay leaves. Our bay leaves were old and stale, so I used a bunch. Two is what the recipe calls for. Also add a good amount of ground black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. I guess you could do this at the end, but I don’t think it hurts any to add the spices now.
Bring the soup to a boil, stirring to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer until the peas are soft, around 45 minutes. Some recipes call for you to soak the peas overnight. Don’t bother.
After 45 minutes, remove the ham hock and add a cup or so each of diced carrots, celery and potato. Tent some foil over the ham hock and let it cool. Keep simmering the soup for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Optionally, see if there’s any actual edible flesh on the ham hock. There might be some, or it might all be knuckle and connective tissue. If there’s any meat that looks decent, you can strip it out, chop it up, and add it to the soup. Or don’t.
Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves, add salt to taste, and serve with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
The original recipe is from the January/February 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and calls for ham steak, bacon, and no potatoes. That recipe looked entirely too meaty (and a waste of a good ham steak), and I think the smoked ham hock serves the same purpose as the bacon. The potatoes might make it a bit too starchy for some tastes, but I’m calling this a success. I also think the red pepper flakes (I used some delicious cayenne from the farmers market) are a good addition.