About this time last year, I was walking through the aisles of our local grocery store, Fiesta Farms. Without wanting to wander off too far on a tangent, I just want to take a moment to emphasize how much I love this place. It's an independent store; it doesn't belong to a big chain. There's only one of it in the city. But, more to the point, it has the most interesting selection of foods on the planet.
I swear by their Gourmet Mediterranean Pizza Sauce. Other people must as well, because the stuff regularly sells out. If I'm there, and the sauce is there, then I'm probably buying multiples of it.
My list of favourites could go on and on (frozen parathas, liberté yogurt in a million flavours, gorgeous organic swiss chard, Rowe farms pork, beef and chicken), but what I really want to talk to you about is a little find I discovered last year in the deli section:
Brandt's Double Smoked Side Bacon.
I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but I was too engrossed in the intense, smoky smell while I was cooking and got carried away in a haze.
That seems to be what happens to most people when they open up a package of the stuff, because I can't find a picture of it anywhere on the internet. Not even off Brandt's website. Brandt is a Mississauga (just outside of Toronto) butcher that does their business in the traditional German style.
I have long loved their liverwurst as it tastes nothing like liver and lots like herbs and spices.
So, when I brought this bacon home last year, I had no idea what to do with it. It was a block, dark and firm with judicious amounts of fat, just slightly larger than the size of my palm. Luckily I found a recipe for Habitant Split Pea Soup that called for both salt pork and a ham hock and decided the hunk of bacon had enough manpower to stand in for the other two pieces of pork.
It was magical.
Weeks later, tragedy struck. Fiesta Farms stopped carrying the bacon. We were heading into March, the weather was strangely balmy and people just had no interest in buying such a dark, wintry ingredient.
I was heartbroken. Since then, I've looked for the bacon every time I've been at the store, with no success.
Until this week. There was one piece.
The soup was coming back to the table.
I picked up some organic yellow split peas from my local bulk store and fired up the stove. Two hours later, the most deliciously flavoured soup appeared on our table.
Nothing beats a bowl of soup, especially a bowl of legumes and pork, on a icy January night.
Split Pea Soup with Double Smoked Bacon
(adapted from Cooking Light Jan/Feb 2010)
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
one hunk double smoked bacon (I think I had about 250g)
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups onion, carrot, and celery to pan; sauté for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in peas; sauté for 1 minute. Add broth and the next 4 ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until peas are tender, skimming surface occasionally, as necessary.
2. Remove bacon and bay leaves. Set aside the bacon and discard the bay leaves
3. Dice bacon. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cover and cook 5 minutes. Drain off fat, and return to heat, cooking an additional 5 minutes or until crisp and browned, stirring frequently.
4. Return bacon to soup, and if you're feeling particularly decadent, pour in any remaining bacon drippings along with it. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Savour every mouthful.