I know I'm going to run into lots of opposition to this statement--and don't get me wrong, I do love ham--but for my taste buds, big chunks of smoky meat don't do split peas any favors. I am instead in love with the pure flavor of the peas themselves and the sophisticated velveteen texture of the peas when pureed to a satiny smoothness. This soup does exactly that. It needs only garlic and a few herbs to bring out it's best qualities. It's the ONLY way I make split pea soup. It's also one of the most heavenly matches in the world for a good glass of dry sherry.
In a large pan, combine:
1 lb split peas
1 quart full-bodied vegetable or chicken broth
1.5 quarts water
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, smooshed
2 tsp herb d'Provence
Several good cranks of black pepper
Salt to taste
Bring the mix to a boil, then simmer for an hour and a half. Remove the bay leaves, drop in the boat motor (immersion blender) to smooth the soup to a fine puree. Adjust salt and pepper to taste (I usually add a finishing dose of black pepper).