It’s Sunday and the early morning sunshine is streaming in lighting up trails across the floor as dust motes swirl in the sunbeams. The coffee pot is on. Ella Fitzgerald is singing her heart out in my living room. I am assembling recipes and ingredients all over the kitchen – preparing for a cooking marathon. I text my daughter who lives only a couple of blocks away: Got any bay leaves?
She calls me back rather than texting. “I have fresh rosemary,” she says. I have rosemary too. But it’s not rosemary I am after. I want bay leaves. No matter. I will proceed without them. I’m not interested in the shriveled nasty looking bay leaves I can buy here in Canada. In my mind, I am back in Australia where I have lived for great chunks of my adult life – thinking about the bay leaves I pilfered from various bay trees and laurel (bay) hedges. The thought of bay hedges makes me nostalgic for Australia. But then, almost every fall as the days get shorter and winter looms, I’m intensely nostalgic for Australia. Who am I kidding? I am nostalgic. Full stop. Nostalgia – like sentimentality – is underrated.
On the kitchen island I have assembled a large bunch of leeks, carrots, split peas, garlic, onion, and a package of thick, meaty bacon from the butchers. On the counter behind me – there’s also butter, olive oil, chocolate, Reese’s pieces and the cornbread that I made the night before. It is sitting at the ready – a small corner gone. I ate it warmed, buttered and slathered in blackberry jam along with my first cup of coffee.
I am looking lovingly at the ingredients. I have been reading nothing but food literature lately and when I’m not reading about food – I’ve been watching food movies. I’m currently reading Kathleen Flinn’s enticing memoir – The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry – about her adventures at the highly stressful Cordon Bleu Cookery School in Paris. And this past weekend I watched two foodie movies – french film Haute Cuisine, which I loved, and the eccentric, rather odd Italian film, I Am Love.
So it’s hardly surprising that I am looking at the food on my counter through new eyes. I can’t help but think about the critical chefs at the Cordon Bleu Cookery School who inspect the chopped vegetables to make sure they are all cut the same, small, exact uniform size.
I attack the leeks with a kind of reckless abandon. To me onions are so integral to good cooking. When I heard that celebrity chef/writer Anthony Bourdain said that life without stock was not worth living – I thought of all the ingredients I felt that way about – salt, butter, pepper, onions, garlic, cheese, chocolate, lemons, vinegar, olive oil, figs, blackberry jam, currants, cranberries, arugula, basil, rosemary. But apparently not bay leaves. And actually – not stock either. Sorry Anthony, but I believe I could live a very worthwhile life without stock. Especially if I’m allowed to use marmite or vegemite in its place, or heaven forbid, the odd stock cube. Organic, I promise.
For a while now – I’ve been binge cooking on the weekend. This particular weekend, I’m making leek, bacon, and cornbread stuffing in preparation for upcoming Canadian Thanksgiving. And I have so many leeks that I am also making bacon, leek and split pea soup in my crockpot. And lastly – I’m also making a batch of gluten-free oatmeal Reese’ pieces cookies.
This is pretty much my dream life. Only it’s real. The dream will end a couple of hours later when I get to the clean-up. For now, I’m in my element – washing and rewashing the leeks, chopping garlic, singing along with Ella.
I often buy things like bags of split peas and shelve them – and then wonder what possessed me. I hardly like pea soup. This pea soup though – I liked very much. Enough that I can imagine making it over and over. The preparation is easy. I chucked everything in the crock pot and cooked it on high for a couple of hours and then turned it down and let it simmer all day. It’s thick and rich and creamy smooth – both in flavour and consistency. The bacon gives the soup a perfect slightly salty, smoky flavour and the leeks lend depth and sweetness. It is substantial enough to serve for a main course along with some sort of hearty bread and nice cheese.
Leek, Bacon, and Split Pea Soup - cooked in the slow-cooker
- 2 1/2 cups yellow split peas, well rinsed
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced finely
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 4-6 slices well-cooked, thick meaty smoked bacon, chopped
- 2 leeks, incredibly well washed, finely diced and fried in the bacon fat
- 4 cups organic chicken or vegetable stock, brought to the boil
- 2 cups water
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- a bay leaf if you have it
Begin by rinsing the split peas a couple of times. Drain in a sieve or fine colander and place the washed peas into your crock pot (or large soup pan). add the diced carrots, onions, garlic, stock and water. Turn on high. [If you’re cooking this on the stove rather than the crockpot – adjust as you see fit. It will take a couple of hours simmering on the stove.]
Fry the bacon until well done. Remove the bacon and cut into small pieces. Reserve the bacon fat – but place the bacon into the soup pot.
Next, deal with the leeks. Begin by washing the leeks thoroughly – starting with the whole leek. Then chop the ends off and cut the leeks in half vertically. Separate the layers and wash again – at least two more times. When satisfied that the layers are completely clean & you can’t stand washing them again – dry and cut the leeks horizontally into about 1/2 inch pieces. Fry the leeks in the bacon fat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the leeks are soft and slightly browned. Add to the soup pot. Here’s where you could add a bay leaf or two – if you have them. Remember to fish them out before serving.
Let the soup come to the boil and leave on high for another hour or two before turning it down to the low setting. Let the soup cook all day – checking at least once to see if it needs more water. Serve it with freshly ground pepper.