Winter Warmer

(Originally posted on 29 November 2008)

It is not properly chilly here. It can get quite discomforting, thanks to the strong atlantic winds, but we seldom get ice in the night. Northern Italy is definitely colder – to me, winter means the damp, iced fog that makes every landscape, even the most urban one, gentler. Anyway, here almost anybody can control their house heating, so we can decide to keep the heating on as little as we like – I actually don’t stand overheated flats anymore, my head starts to hurt. Even if we do keep the heating on, our house is large enough and badly isolated enough to stay reasonably cold, a fact shared by most British houses – will they ever learn how to properly insulate a house, or, for what matters, how to build a straight wall? This being the situation, and since I am always looking for low cal comfort food, soups are a hit. Now in everyday food in Italy soups are nothing luscious, and in my family we don’t use them a lot. They remind of dieting and punishment eating. Of course some of them score in my favourite food ever, but they tend to be complex in preparation and flavour, calling for ‘exotic’ ingredients or lots of handwork: think of pasta e fagioli, a family favourite from Venezia with handmade tagliatelle, or pappa al pomodoro, that can go from distilled and concentrated Mediterranean essence flavours, with the right olive oil, tomatoes and of course wood oven baked bread, to a disgusting acidic slop. But recently any time I make a soup I am so pleased with the simplicity of preparation and cleaning, and the nice and filling results that I wonder why I don’t cook them more often. So yesterday I decided to go for a soup, and to give a go to a cupboard ingredient patiently waiting for its turn, something that apparently is a childhood favourite here in UK: split pea soup.

The result was indeed a nice surprise and I think it is going to become one of my winter staples. The flavour reminds me a little of dried fava bean, the Sicilian macco, but milder and sweeter. The colour is a bold yellow that will make you feel happy. Being my first try, I kept the recipe as basic as I can, but I can imagine a large number of variations that are going to be very nice. The soup needs a long cooking time – it required the best part of an hour, but I’m sure the time can be reduced if you soak the peas overnight, and anyway, once on the stove it does not require any attention other than an occasional (really occasional) stir, so you can leave it to simmer for you while you do more exciting things. It is also nice the day after, like most soups.

Yellow Split Peas Soup

Ingredients:

1 large red onion,

one carrot,

1 celery stalk,

1 red chili pepper,

2 bay leaves,

small bunch of thyme,

200 gr yellow split peas,

2 sun dried tomatoes,

little piece of speck skin (or something smoked like pork ribs – optional if you are vegetarian, of course),

salt, pepper, olive oil.

Method:

Put about 1 litre of water to boil. Thinly slice the onion, chop the carrot and celery (how finely depends on how large you like the chunks in your soup: I like them to be visible but not with a separate flavour and consistency, so quite small). Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot (I used a non stick one and this probably saved me some stirring) for a minute. Add the chopped chili and let it stand for 30 seconds over high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery; give it a good stir then lower the heat and let everything soften. Add the chopped dried tomatoes and the bay leaves. Rinse the peas under cold water and add them to the pot. Let them get warm by stirring for a minute or so, then add the boiling water. Add the washed speck skin to the pot, a branch of thyme, bring back to the boil, lower the heat and let it bubble gently for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and topping up with more hot water if it runs dry. Add salt and pepper at the end of cooking. When the peas are soft, but not completely melted, add a splash of olive oil and serve with some toasted bread .

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