Last week I started itching to try another recipe from Hugh Acheson’s cookbook that I picked up while at his restaurant, 5and10, in Athens. I also had not cooked anything in a few days and felt like I needed a little guidance in the kitchen. I spent my lunch break first eating a ham sandwich and flipping through A New Turn in the South, then at the grocery store purchasing the very few things I needed to make Hugh’s Field Pea, Ham Hock & Mustard Green Soup. I prefer to call it The South in a Bowl, because it basically has everything Southern and delicious in it.
As you can probably tell, I made some adjustments. I’m no James Beard winner, but I actually think my adjustments might be even tastier than the original recipe. But I might just be slightly biased towards zipper peas.
South in a Bowl (adapted from Hugh Acheson’s cookbook, A New Turn in the South)
– 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
– 1/2 a medium Vidalia onion
– 2 to 3 carrots, diced
– 1 celery stalk, minced
– 3 garlic cloves, peeled
– one quart bag of frozen zipper peas*
– 32 ounces low sodium chicken stock
– 1 smoked ham hock
– 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
– one pint bag frozen turnip greens
– 1 fresh medium sized tomato, chopped
– one teaspoon kosher salt
– 1 tablespoon cider vinegar or pepper sauce
– extra virgin olive oil
– cornbread to serve on the side
*A note on peas: You may have seen my Instagram picture when Wheat and I put up peas not long ago. My sweet daddy gave us a bushel of zipper peas, which were grown by his good friend just outside of Blountstown, Florida. They are some of the prettiest peas I’ve seen! Anyway, if you want to spend some time puttin’ up peas your own self, here’s what I do to blanch and freeze them: dump your peas into a sink and fill it up with water. Swish your hands around in the water, and pick out any stems, leaves, and less-than-desirable-looking peas. Drain the water and repeat until the water stays clear. While all the swishing and picking is going on, get a Hugh Jass pot of water boiling, as well as a big bowl of ice water. Once the peas are clean and the water is boiling, dump them in batches into the pot of boiling water. Leave them in the boiling water for two minutes, then take them out using a mesh strainer or something similar and dunk them in the ice water bath. This stops the cooking process, and blanching them is essential before you freeze them. then I strain them back out and put them in ziploc bags and freeze them (without water in the bags).
I started out by dicing my mirepoix (basically, the carrots/celery/onion base of almost all soups) on the heart pine cutting board my daddy made out of a board from my parents’ < 100 year old house. Please ignore (or giggle at) the typo – the company who made his wood burning “branding iron” misspelled his name multiple times, so he finally just gave up. Such is life.
Place a 4- to 6-quart soup pot over medium heat and add the butter. When it’s melted, add the mirepoix and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic, thawed zipper peas, chicken stock, and ham hock. Cook until the peas are tender, about an hour (I turned it down to low and cooked it for two). While the soup is cooking, make your cornbread (scroll down for recipe). Mr. Acheson calls for cornbread croutons, and asks you to cut your cornbread up into one-inch chunks and toast them in a cast iron skillet in bacon grease. I skipped this and served the wedge you see above. The wedge ended up crumbled into the soup and enthusiastically dredged through it, too.
Remove the ham hock from the soup pot and take the meat off the bones. Coarsely chop the meat and return it to the pot. Discard the bones and any connective tissue.
Add the thyme, thawed turnip greens, tomato, and salt to the soup. Cook for 10 or 15 more minutes (or leave on low until everyone is ready to eat). Portion into bowls for serving, and drizzle each bowl with a splash of cider vinegar or pepper sauce and a dash of olive oil and garnish with a slice of cornbread. I realize that the vinegar and olive oil sound totally unnecessary, but they are the cherries on top of this sundae. Please don’t leave them out! It made it SO much better (the pepper sauce especially!).
Now about that cornbread…
Rather than making the cornbread I always make, I decided to try out Hugh Acheson’s. It was really good, but Wheat returned a “stick to your own recipe” verdict. I’m sharing here anyway, because it was still really, really tasty. It just was a little dryer and denser, with a finer crumb than mine (aka Lala’s).
I loved the quote from Hugh at the top of his cornbread recipe: “Cornbread should not have sugar in it. That’s cake.”
Although I will be the first one to admit that I love a good cornbread muffin.
One reason I probably liked his recipe is most likely the essential ingredient: bacon grease! We save this liquid gold in a jar in the fridge every time we cook bacon. We don’t use it very often, but it sure comes in handy sometimes.
Cornbread (from Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South)
– 2 cups white cornmeal
– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
– 3/4 cup whole milk
– 3/4 cup buttermilk
– 1 large egg
– 1/4 cup bacon grease
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (milks and egg). Add the wet mix to the dry mix and stir well to combine.
Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and add the bacon grease. When the fat is hot (but not smoking), add it to the batter and stir. Pour the batter back into the skillet and place in the over for 20 minutes.
Let the cornbread cool in the skillet for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn it out onto a cutting board and cut into wedges for serving.
And that’s all folks! This turned out to be one of my favorite meals in a while (I say that a lot though, I guess). It really was SO good though. I could make this every couple of weeks and be perfectly content. Plus, despite the small amount of pure bacon grease goodness, all that color means it’s pretty good for you, too.
Put some South in your mouth, y’all!