A while ago, I was gifted a giant tub of bacon ends from a member of a different CSA. They languished in the back of my freezer until a deep spring clean last week.
Bacon ends are a terrific thing to have in the house — even if you’re like me and fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” camp. Just make sure that you have them somewhere you can see them at all times, a visual reminder that every dish is better with bacon.
Not only are bacon ends a good thing to always have on hand, but they are also much more economical than buying bacon strips. Chopped up and slowly browned, they make wonderful bacon bits. The rendered fat can be used in the place of oil or butter, or in anything that could be enhanced by some smoky porcine flavor.
And let’s be honest, what wouldn’t benefit from added porkiness?
People can sometimes be a little skeeved out by cooking with animal fat. However, so long as the pigs are pasture-raised by a farmer who follows organic practices, there should be no fear of needing Lipitor. Bacon fat from pasture-raised pork even has the added benefit of being a good source of vitamin D, making bacon fat certainly as good as butter!
I’m not saying that you should sit around the house and chow down on scoops of it, but a little bacon fat is much healthier for you than all those omnipresent, heavily-processed vegetable oils. My rule of thumb is that the more steps in processing it takes to get the food to your mouth, the less healthy it is for you. I would even go as far as to argue that it’s not even food at that point. This is why I always shake my head at people who buy low-fat foods because in order to make up for the taste and flavor deficit, those items are generally bulked up with tons of sugar — which might be worse for you than the fat.
Plus low-fat foods taste bad.
Anyway, no more ranting. Back to the soup!
Dried split peas scream for bacon! But if animals are not your thing, you can leave the bacon out and make the soup with smoked paprika instead.
About 3 or 4 ounces of bacon or bacon ends, cut into small dice
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 pound (16 ounces) of dried split peas, picked over for small stones
2 bay leaves
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock + 1 cup of water
Salt and pepper
A hand-held immersion blender (optional)
How to prepare:
1. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon or bacon ends over medium heat with a little bit of olive oil until most of the fat has rendered. Reserve a few bits of bacon for garnish. Spoon off all but one tablespoon of bacon fat. Keep the bacon fat in a clean container in your freezer, and use it for other things like roasting potatoes, eggs, roasting chickens, anything really.
2. Add the vegetables to the pot. Let them cook until the vegetables have softened and the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the split peas and toss them with the vegetables until they are evenly coated with bacon fat. Add the bay leaves, the stock and the water. Bring everything up to boil, and then reduce the heat. Let the peas simmer until they are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Periodically skim the top of the soup of scum and grease. If the soup seems too thick, thin it out by adding more stock or water.
3. When the peas are tender, you can leave the soup alone if you like a chunky soup. I like to partially purée the soup so that it is creamier, but still has some interesting bits of vegetables and peas in it. This is super easy to do with an immersion blender. Just insert the stick blender into the soup and blend as much as you like. You can also transfer half of the soup to a regular blender or a food processor, then add the blended soup back to the unblended half. If you use a blender, keep your hand smacked tight onto the blender lid lest it go flying off, leaving your kitchen covered in pea soup spray. Adjust the seasoning for a final time, and thin the soup with stock or water again if it seems too thick.
Serve topped with a few of the reserved bacon bits, a dusting of smoked paprika and with some good, hearty bread.