1 lb. split green peas, rinsed and picked through
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 lb. smoked picnic ham (bone-in, if you have it) - leftovers work great
2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled & diced
3 quarts (12 cups) water
1 tsp. sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1. Rinse the split peas in a colander and pick through to remove any stones. Leave in the colander and set aside.
2. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large Dutch oven or enameled cast iron pan over high heat. Saute the chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic until softened but not browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ham, bone-in and/or any pieces you have from leftovers and saute briefly.
3. Add the bay leaves, thyme, potatoes, water, 1 tsp. sugar, pinch of black pepper and salt (do not oversalt at this point since the ham will release salt into the broth). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the peas are very soft.
4. Remove the ham to a chopping board and let sit until cool enough to handle. Cut the ham meat into 1/2" cubes and return back to the soup. Taste the soup and season with extra salt and pepper, as needed. Stir in a pinch of cayenne pepper before serving.
Optional Garnishes: Chopped scallions or chives, chopped boiled eggs, shredded cheese, bacon bits, croutons, creme fraiche or sour cream