I love soup. I’m a bit of a soup head, really; always have been, always will be. And it always, always astonishes me when people don’t make their own, because producing great soups is so quick, so easy and so affordable. Soup also freezes brilliantly, so you can make oodles and store the rest (though use heavily spiced soups promptly; spices can intensify). Admittedly some ready-made soups have a strong comfort factor – Heinz tomato being a case in point – but you can make much, much more, and with greatly reduced expenditure, and without any strange ingredients when you do it yourself. I don’t need extra ‘milk proteins’ with my own soup, for instance, and accidentally discovered a more-than-passable version of the Heinz fave while trying to factor those out (red pepper is key, BTW). I don’t need modified maize starch, added caramel or high levels of salt, either, and my butternut squash soup will contain a lot more than 12% butternut squash, and 0% additional preservatives. Grr.
There are some soups which, undeniably, might take a little longer than 30 minutes to cook, notably those involving pulses. But there are ways round this, such as cooking them while you’re doing other things or – for heaven’s sake – using tinned pulses or a pressure cooker, the latter not as terrifying a prospect as it once was. It’s not rocket science, and it saddens me deeply when I hear someone on the radio, as I did the other day, bemoaning the fact that they miss their grandmother’s soup. Takes too long to do, apparently, and the presenter agreed. It was pea and ham. How sad…
So, with ‘killer snow’ in the forecast (thanks, Daily Express), what better time could there be to come up with a quick and easy pea and ham soup? One that doesn’t involve buying a packet from the supermarket, either. No sodium triphosphate; no dextrose, no added ‘beechwood smoke’ whatever that is, no tricalcium phosphate, etc., etc – plus I know the ham it contains is ham I’d be happy to eat and not some miscellaneous bits of pig, only appetizing if you can’t see them ‘raw’.
Let’s not forget the aesthetic element, either. It’s a beauty – satisfying to the eye as well as the palate. Perfect for this time of year, with the sky suddenly darkening and sleet rattling on the window (maybe the Express was right). Even if it failed completely to help me with the crossword.
Pea and ham soup
serves between 4-6, depending on how thick you like your soup
2 small potatoes
1 small onion or 2 large shallots
1 tsp rapeseed oil
1 small pinch of salt
900g frozen peas
100ml unsalted chicken stock
75g ham offcuts from the supermarket deli counter
Chop the potatoes (leave the skin on) and the onion fairly finely. Warm the oil in a heavy pan over a medium heat, and add the chopped vegetables. Give them a stir in the oil, making sure they don’t stick, and add a small pinch of salt. Cover and leave for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken stock and stir.
Add the frozen peas, cover the pan again and let the peas defrost in the heat and begin to cook. Then add water to cover – about 750ml – and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a steady simmer and cook for 5 minutes. While the soup is cooking, pick over the ham pieces, removing excess fat as much as possible. Chop the pieces and add them to the pan, then continue to cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until everything is cooked and heated through thoroughly – note that it’s important not to overcook the soup as it will lose the gorgeous green colour. Blend it by hand, preferably, giving it a rough texture, and thin to the required consistency with water if necessary. But it is best nice and thick!