My very own Dutch Auntie Mame, Cecile Van Lanschott, gifted me with a Dutch cookbook from the 1600’s. Handbound in vellum and filled with handwritten recipes, the book traces one family’s food through two centuries. More than a culinary chronicle, the book is a personal portrait of the Netherlands’ changing fortunes and tastes. Our pea soup comes straight from its pages.
What chicken soup is to us, pea soup is to the Dutch -- an everlasting standby and cure-all. But as this recipe proves, it was far sexier in the 1600’s. Spices are the tipping point of the dish. Holland reigned as one of Europe’s prime spice traders in the 17th century, and this recipe was no doubt a family show-off piece, proving they could afford its ginger, allspice and cloves. Don’t hesitate to cook it a day or two ahead.
Cook to Cook: Split peas’ cooking time can range from 30 minutes to an hour depending on their age. If you buy them where there is fast turnover the soup should cook up quickly.
Soup holds 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and freezes well. Add the final swirl of butter just before serving.
1 large leek
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
1 large carrot, peeled and fine chopped
3 medium onions, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch dice
Meat cut from 2 large smoked ham hocks (2 to 2-1/2 pounds)
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
3 medium red skin potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1-1/2 cups dried split peas (yellow ones are preferred in Holland)
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 14-ounce cans vegetable or chicken broth
3 to 4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1. Prepare the leek by cutting away the green top and the root. You’ll use only the white portion. Slice the white stalk down its length and rinse it under cold running water to wash away any sand. Pat the leek dry with paper towels and slice it thin.
2. In a 6-quart pot, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the leeks, carrots, onions, and meat, and salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions begin to brown. Then stir in the potatoes, split peas, cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice, the ginger, thyme, garlic, broth, and water. There should be enough liquid to cover the peas and vegetables by an inch. Add more water if necessary.
3. Simmer the soup, partially covered, 30 minutes, or until the split peas are almost dissolved and the potatoes are tender. Taste the soup for seasoning, and just before serving it, swirl in the 2 tablespoons of butter. Finish the soup by stirring in the last 1/4 teaspoon of allspice.
From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter, 2008.
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