I found this recipe on the America’s Test Kitchen website, and it is outstanding! If you’d like to make a vegetarian version, add smoked paprika instead of ham hocks.
They advise: After much testing, we discovered that ham was indeed necessary for the best split pea soup recipe; broths made without ham tasted weak. A ham bone was key to flavorful broth, and the tender pieces of ham that fell away from the bone during cooking were essential to the soup. But you don’t have to buy a huge half ham for our split pea soup recipe; we found that a small, inexpensive picnic ham worked just fine. As for the vegetables, we found that while there’s no need to soak the peas, the other, fresh vegetables benefit from a deep caramelization on the stovetop.
Split Pea, Ham, and Potato Soup
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped medium
2 medium carrots, chopped medium
2 medium stalks celery, chopped medium
1 tablespoon unsalted Kerrygold butter (or more extra virgin olive oil)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of granulated sugar
1 pound split peas (2-1/2 cups), rinsed and picked through
(if your peas are old, add a pinch of baking soda)
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2-4 stems fresh (herbes de Provence is good, as well)
3 small new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into medium dice (about 150g)
If making vegetarian version, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Ground black pepper
(Time: 2-1/2 hours)
Bring chicken broth, water, ham/hocks, and bay leaves to a boil, covered, over medium-high heat in large soup kettle. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is tender and pulls away from bone, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
While ham is simmering, heat oil in large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery; sauté, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low; add butter, garlic, and sugar. Cook vegetables, stirring frequently, until browned and/or caramelized, 30 to 35 minutes; set aside.
(Time: 45 minutes)
When the ham has finished cooking, remove its meat and bone from broth; then add the split peas, thyme, and simmer until peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes.
When the ham is cool enough to handle, shred meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard rind and bone.
(Time: 1 hour+)
Add sautéed vegetables, potatoes, and shredded ham to soup; simmer until potatoes are tender and peas dissolve and thicken soup to the consistency of light cream, an hour or more. Add the smoked paprika, if using.
Serve with chunks of fresh crusty bread, biscuits, cornbread, or dinner rolls.
Note: I sometimes add chopped greens (spinach, chard, etc.) to this soup.