I use ham hock for my take on this classic soup; it has a flakey texture and is a bit fattier than most other cuts of ham, thereby providing more flavour. The ham hock is cooked gently in water at a barely trembling simmer for 4 hours or so, until the meat is just falling off the bone. A selection of vegetables and some aromatic herbs are added for extra depth and sweetness. The resulting stock is intensely flavourful and could be served as an acceptable broth on its own, but when combined with sweet garden peas it's truly fantastic. You can use fresh peas for this, but it's much easier (and just as delicious) to use defrosted frozen ones.
To get a nice vibrant green colour, it's important to cook the peas as quickly as possible. Achieve this by ensuring the peas are fully defrosted and that the stock is boiling hot when you add it. Then, blend the soup immediately on full-power. If you're making the soup in advance and won't be eating it straight away, you should cool it down as fast as possible by transferring it to a large tray or bowl placed over an ice bath, then continuously scrape the soup away from the sides with a spatula until cold. This works better with a metal bowl or tray, since it will conduct heat better than plastic or ceramic.
for the ham hock
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 sprig parsley
- 6 black peppercorns
- 1 ham hock (smoked or unsmoked)
- 450 g defrosted garden peas
- 25 g unsalted butter
- 2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
- 4 mint leaves
- sea salt and cracked black pepper
- ground white pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
To cook the ham hock: place the ham hock in a large pan or casserole dish and cover with cold water. Place over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down until the water is barely simmering, then skim off any scum that rises to the surface with a ladle or spoon. Place the chopped vegetables, thyme, parsley and black peppercorns in the pot. Simmer gently for around 4 hours or until the meat is just falling off the bone. Top up the pan with more water to ensure the meat is covered throughout the cooking process.
When the ham hock is cooked, remove it from the stock using a slotted spoon or tongs, and place on a tray to cool down for about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, pick the meat from the bone and separate and discard any large lumps of fat. Flake the meat and place in a bowl. Separate the vegetables from the stock by passing it through a colander into another pan. The amount of stock you have will depend on the size of pan you used, but it should be at least 1 litre. Discard the cooked stock vegetables.
Now place another large pan or casserole over a medium-high heat and add the butter. When the butter begins to foam, add the sliced onion and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to low and cook gently like this for around 5 minutes, until the onions are soft. Be careful not to let the onions caramelise; if they are starting to turn brown, turn the heat down a bit.
Make sure your stock is boiling hot and that your peas are fully defrosted. Add the peas and spinach, and enough stock to just cover them. Bring to the boil, and simmer for exactly 1 minute. Now transfer the soup to your blender (probably in batches, depending on the size), but reserve some of the stock as you don't want the soup to be too thin. Blend the soup on full power for 2 minutes. If it's a bit too thick, add some more stock. Pass through a fine sieve, then pour into bowls. Warm the flaked ham by placing in the microwave or the oven briefly, then place in the centre of each bowl. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle a little cracked black pepper and finally cut the mint into a fine chiffonade and scatter over. Enjoy with some crusty bread.