Friday, December 23, 2011

One Great . . . New Year's Day soup

Yes, I'm superstitious: I would never consider passing the first day of the year without eating collards, black-eyed peas and a little hog jowl. Some people say the peas represent coins and the collards represent money. My Georgia-born parents used to tease us that if you're eating poor people's food by choice, it's a sign that you're doing pretty good.

Whatever. Given the current economy, I don't intend to take a chance.

I was looking around through this year's crop of new cookbooks when I spotted this in "A New Turn in the South," by Hugh Acheson. Acheson is the chef of the restaurants Five and Ten and The National in Athens, Ga., and Empire State South in Atlanta. But these days, he's probably more famous as the chef with the unibrow on "Top Chef Masters" and a regular judge on "Top Chef."

If you want to adhere strictly to tradition, you could swap the mustard greens for collards, but you'll need to add them earlier, probably when you add the peas. The recipe is a little longer than we usually use for One Great, but you can simplify things and use a mix for the cornbread.

Field Pea, Ham Hock & Mustard Green Soup
From "A New Turn in the South," by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, $35).

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup minced sweet onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 stalk celery, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup dried black-eyed peas
6 cups chicken stock (low-sodium if canned)
1 smoked ham hock, about 1 pound
1 batch of cornbread, baked and cooled
2 tablespoons bacon fat
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups chopped mustard greens
1 cup chopped tomato
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil

Place a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic, black-eyed peas, chicken stock and ham hock. Cook until the peas are tender, about 1 hour. Skim occasionally to remove any white bean matter that rises to the top.

Cut the cornbread into 1/2-inch-by-1/2-inch cubes while the soup is cooking. Heat the bacon fat in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the cubes and toast until crisp, cooking in batches if needed. Cool on a large plate.

Remove the ham hock and let stand until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bone, coarsely chop and return to the pot. Add the thyme, mustard greens, tomato and salt to the soup. Cook 10 minutes longer. Drizzle each serving with a few drops of vinegar and a dash of olive oil, and garnish with a few cornbread croutons.

Yield: Serves 6 with leftovers.