Split pea soup is as comforting as it is delicious. Make it French topped with homemade Provence herb croutons or make it Italian with ditalini pasta. But make it tonight!
Split pea soup is a classic, hearty soup made for generations in the winter and spring, when fresh, green vegetables are scarce. Peas can be dried after harvest and “split peas” will keep easily for 1 year or longer in the cupboard, waiting to satisfy that yearning for a hearty soup until fresh peas become available in the springtime.
Since my family did not make split-pea soup when I was growing up, I researched a bit to discover that this soup is popular in both Italy and France. The split peas are cooked in essentially the same way, but the soups are finished differently.
In both versions, some type of ham product is commonly used to flavor the peas, although this can be left out to make a vegetarian soup. I’ve chosen pancetta, or Italian bacon, for the ham product in my soup. Chopped onions and carrots are a mainstay, as is the herb thyme.
In Italy, split pea soup is cooked until the peas fall apart by themselves in the soup, and the soup is left a little bit chunky. The soup is then finished by adding in cooked Ditalini pasta or a potato cut into small cubes. In France, the soup is pureed, and finished with a topping of canned peas or croutons.
I’ve included a method to make homemade croutons using herbs of Provence as the French garnish for my split-pea soup. But I’m sure you’ll enjoy making these croutons for many more dishes once you realize how simple it is to make croutons yourself.
Whatever version you choose, this soup is sure to please your family! —Kathryn Occhipinti
Recipe is listed below. Check out my latest Instagram video from Conversationalitalilan.french and watch me make split pea soup and croutons if you like!
for the Soup:
1 bag (26 oz.) split peas, soaked in water to make 3-4 cups
2 Tb butter
1/4 cup pancetta or ham, diced into small cubes
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
1 carrot, peeled and chopped finely
Fresh sprig or 1 tsp of dried parsley
Fresh sprig or 1/8 tsp of dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Italian style: 1 cup ditalini pasta, cooked
for the Croutons
1 loaf French bread, cubed
1/2 cup olive oil,
1/2 -1 tsp crushed garlic (from jar)
dried parsley flakes
dried herbs of Provence.
Put the 3-4 cups of soaked peas in large pot with 7 cups water.
Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp baking soda .(If you have “hard water” the baking soda will counteract the calcium salts in the hard water so the split peas can soften properly.*)
Bring the pot of water with split peas to the boil slowly, taking about 45 min. This will allow the peas to absorb the water properly and soften properly.* Skim foam off periodically as it comes to the surface.
While the split peas are coming to a boil, saute the finely chopped pancetta (or ham), onion and carrot in 2 Tb of butter and a pinch of salt until the vegetables soften. Do not brown.
After a rolling boil is reached, skim foam from the pot again and add the sauteed vegetables and ham.
Then add the herbs to taste. If fresh, the herbs should be added in a “bouquet garni,” wrapped in cheesecloth so they can be removed. Dried herbs will soften and fall apart as the soup cooks. Suggested herbs: chopped fresh or dried parsley, sprig or pinch of dried thyme and a small bay leaf.
Simmer an additional 2 -2 1/2 hours, until split peas fall apart and thicken the soup.
Remove bay leaf (and bouquet garni if used) when done!
Reduce peas to puree while cooking to desired thickness for Italian version (leave a little chunky). Or puree in food processor for French version.
Italian version: Cook 1/2 cup Ditalini pasta separately, add to soup and and enjoy.
French version: After pureeing, place back on the stove and add 2 Tb butter, blending into the soup as it melts. Top with canned peas to serve or homemade croutons.
For the homemade croutons: 1 loaf French bread, cubed,1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 -1 tsp crushed garlic (add to olive oil and mix to coat evenly), pinch salt, dried parsley flakes, dried herbs of Provence. Mix, spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 400° until golden brown. Viola! —Kathryn Occhipinti
*I learned these tips from the French cook book, La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, first published in French in 1920, first translated into English as of 1995, and with a second edition in 2005. As the forward states, “it is today recognized by many French home and restaurant cooks… as the most articulate and popular home cookbook available in bookstores, from the time of its first publication… in the late 1920s to these first years of the 20th century.” This cook book is filled with so many details about buying, prepping and cooking French food of every type that I am sure cooks of all levels will benefit from the knowledge imparted by Madame into the 21st century and beyond.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”
Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet @travelitalian1 for Stella Lucente Italian
Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC
Italian Recipe: Split Pea Soup with Homemade Croutons