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Dried Pea Soup

1 lb Split peas
2 tb Oil
2 md Onions, chopped
2 Ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 Ham hock, small piece of smoked bac; on, or ham bone
2 Bay leaves
8 c Chicken stock, water, or combinatio; n of the two
1 Salt
1 Freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash peas in cold water until the water runs clear. Cover with plenty of cold water and let sit overnight. Rinse and change water several times. As a shortcut, pour boiling water over the washed peas and let sit for 1 hour.

In a soup pot, heat the oil. Add the onion and celery. Cook over moderately high heat until onions are translucent. Drain the peas and add them along with the ham or bacon and bay leaves.

Pour in the stock or water. Bring almost to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until peas are cooked, about 30 minutes. (Time will vary according to the peas used. If they have been on the shelf for a long time, they will need more cooking than younger peas. The peas must be quite soft before proceeding or the soup will be gritty.)

Remove the ham or bacon and, working in batches, puree cooked peas in a food processor until very smooth. Cut any lean pieces of pork into small pieces and add to the soup, if desired. Return to heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. THe soup can be thinned out with additional stock or water if desired. Working the soup through a sieve will give it an even silkier texture. Serve hot with baked croutons or thin toasts

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