When Peter and I were first married, my interest in cooking took off and I realized that I was very comfortable and proficient in the kitchen. It turns out that I had learned a lot over the years, just from being in the kitchens of various family members, watching and helping. But as a newlywed just starting to cook for her husband, his family and various friends, there were a fair amount of flops, the occasional disaster, and even some heartburn (sorry, Peter). But, for the most part, I've managed to steadily improve my cooking and baking skills thanks to some great cookbooks, magazines, blogs, and many hours spent watching Food Network.
Ina Garten quickly became my favorite food TV inspiration because I can relate to her: she learned from others and is largely self-taught. Her recipes are all elegant while still being familiar, accessible and simple. She doesn't bother with obscure ingredients or use complex, time-consuming methods. She often refers to many of her recipes and ingredients as being "earthy", always emphasizing the importance of using good-quality ingredients and balancing flavors. It's a food philosophy that resonates with me because it's the way my family members cooked as well.
This recipe illustrates Ina's philosophy of how a few good-quality and basic ingredients can meld together to create a hearty and flavorful end result. It's become my personal go-to recipe for split pea soup. Salty-sweet pancetta and a trinity of vibrant carrots, crisp celery and pungent onion slowly caramelize in fruity olive oil, creating a base flavor that gently permeates the soup as it simmers. And dainty, grassy-green dried peas slowly plump up in the richly seasoned chicken stock. A couple of hours later, I had a thick, fragrant and velvety soup that was the epitome of earthy simplicity and as far from a flop or a disaster as I could get.
Split Pea Soup
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2-inch thick slice of pancetta, diced
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cups split peas, rinsed and picked through
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
8 cups chicken stock
Preheat a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil and let it get warm and fragrant, but not smoking, about 1 minute. Add the pancetta and let it get brown and slightly crisp around the edges. Remove the pancetta to a small bowl using a slotted spoon.
Add the carrots, celery, onion, salt, pepper and oregano and saute them over medium heat until they become tender and lightly caramelized, about 3-4 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary so the vegetables do not burn. Add in the rinsed split peas and mix thoroughly to coat them with the olive oil and distribute the vegetables evenly. Add the pancetta back into the pot and stir to incorporate it. Saute this mixture for about 1 minute and then add in the chicken stock. Cover the pot partially with the lid and bring to a gentle boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low, keep the pot partially covered and allow the soup to simmer steadily for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently.
As it cooks, the soup with thicken. If it is getting too thick before the peas have cooked completely, add water 1 cup at a time and stir often to prevent any solids from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Towards the end of cooking, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Serve hot.
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