Hambone, Hambone, Where You Been?*

Maybe your family enjoys the tradition of eating ham for Thanksgiving, on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year's. It's a great choice for big families and parties and the spiral-sliced hams are so easy that everyone can just serve themselves.

But the best thing about ham is the bone. Though ham sandwiches also have a special place in my heart.

Interestingly, I am now much more concerned with the nose-to-tail concept, though on a much milder scale. I am not going to eat snout. Or the gall bladder or even the thymus aka sweetbreads.

Perhaps it was my grandmother's impact on me as she grew up in the Depression and never wasted anything. Most certainly not a ham bone. Or a turkey carcass. (Did I mention that I took veggie peels the other day and made a stock? How's that for not wasting anything?) Perhaps I am becoming greener, or it could even be that I appreciate the little things more these days. Whatever it is, I am not complaining because a ham bone is to soup what sauce is to pasta. What cookies are to milk.

And while a ham bone is not always a mandatory component for a great soup, it does lend a special something. The pork-a-licious flavor coats the soup and gives it a depth of seasoning that no amount of salt can provide.

In keeping with the culinary spirit of the holidays, we had a fresh ham for Christmas and have been eating leftovers for days, or so it seems. Yesterday we cut the ham bone out so I could whip up a little split pea soup.

A great way to celebrate the holidays.

Buen provecho!

*The title of this blog post comes from a song.

Split Pea Soup
The Cowgirl Gourmet (http://www.thecowgirlgourmet.blogspot.com/)

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I was raised on this delicious green stuff. It's comfort in a bowl for me. Although I prefer it with a ham bone or pork of some kind, you could also hold the pork for a vegetarian version. Because we love it so much, I use 1 1/2 lbs. of split peas and freeze some for a cold, rainy day or share it with friends and loved ones. Remember it's always better the next day which is another reason to make plenty!

Serves 8-10

1 1/2 lbs. green split peas, organic if you can find them
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 celery stalks and the heart of the celery, chopped
3-4 carrots, medium, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided into 1/4 teaspoons
1 ham bone, optional
2 bay leaves
8-10 cups of water
Fresh ground black pepper

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, pour 3 Tablespoons olive oil. Once it's hot but not smoking, add the chopped onions and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to coat and let the onions saute 3 minutes while you cut the carrots and celery. You may want to turn the heat down just a bit so the onions do not burn or caramelize.

Once the onions have softened a bit, add the carrots and celery and the last 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Add the ham bone, stir to combine and cook 3-5 minutes allowing all the flavors to marry.

Place the split peas in a colander and rinse under cold water. Let the water drain thoroughly and shake off any excess. Add the split peas to the veggies and stir thoroughly.

Pour in 8 cups of water to the pot and stir well. You want the water to cover everything, though you don't want too much water. If the soup becomes too thick, you can then add more water, but just start with 8 cups for now.

Drop in 2 bay leaves and bring soup to a simmer. Once it simmers, turn the soup to medium-low heat, cover and cook 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If soup is too thick, add a little more water. On the other hand, if soup is a little thin, remove the cover and continue to cook until it thickens.

Taste the soup, adjust the salt if necessary and add plenty of fresh ground black pepper.

Serve in a bowl with a few grinds of fresh black pepper on top and perhaps a fresh slice of a hearty, dark brown bread (such as pumpernickel, Bavarian rye or marbled rye) with butter.

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