I’d been warned that the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles wouldn’t be especially scenic. Though Highway 101, which meanders along the coast, is spectacular, the fastest route is the I-5, which cuts a straight line through hundreds of miles of the Central Valley. For most of the way it’s a dual carriageway, and a constant cavalcade of trucks hauling goods up and down the state means you can never quite sit back and enjoy the drive. Trees flank the road in places, flashing by in dizzying stripes and stretching all the way to the horizon. I strained my eyes trying to identify them. Maybe pomegranate or pistachio. Or almond. Or olive. Some of them have been heaved out of the soil, their roots turned upwards to the sky. Tumbleweeds bumble idly down the central reservation, blown out tires litter the verges. There are enormous feed lots too. The stench from thousands of cattle packed into dusty squares of dirt hits you before you see them. Then suddenly there they are, destined to live out their days in miserable conditions under the California sun.
The first time I drove to Los Angeles, I was with my mother-in-law and husband, and they insisted we stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s for lunch. The original restaurant was founded in 1924 near Santa Barbara, and the Highway 101 location opened in 1976. It’s one of those places that has seemingly never needed to move with the times. The dark-wood walls and red-leather booths; the warm, familial atmosphere; and the branding—“Ha-Pea and Pea-Wee, Splitting Peas since 1924”—are all rooted firmly in the past, and are all the more charming for it. Like a bottomless cup of coffee at a roadside diner, the soup top-ups at Andersen’s are unlimited. Though I dare you to finish the split pea soup in a bread bowl: a whole sourdough loaf, middle scooped out and filled to the brim with soup, with bacon bits, croutons, diced ham, scallions, and grated cheddar cheese on the side. If you need your bowl topped up after that, your legs must be hollow.
It’s not hard to understand the enduring appeal of Andersen’s. It’s a quirky aside in an otherwise long and repetitive story. In recent years, I’ve found myself feeling something akin to grief for the pre-internet part of my life. The quietness of paper and landlines and meeting in person, living without devices or social media. When you sit down in a booth at Andersen’s, you find yourself mulling a certain wistfulness, and even if the food doesn’t blow your socks off (it won’t), you can take a momentary rest from it all. You eat a bowl of split pea soup, feel the warmth fill out your belly, then head back out to the trucks and the poor cows and the eternal search for Wi-Fi so you can upload your photos of Pea Soup Andersen’s to Instagram.
I bought some dried peas a while ago to make vegetarian haggis (delicious!), and since then, what I didn’t use sat in a jar on our kitchen shelf, where I promptly forgot about it. The peas resurfaced during a recent kitchen clear-out, and I suddenly fancied a steaming bowl of pea soup. A lot of recipes I looked at used smoked bacon, but I used smoked chilli instead. If smokey flavours aren’t your jam (like my husband), leave it out. I don’t use any stock in my recipe because by seasoning and cooking the veg well in the beginning, you’ll get plenty of flavour without adding anything extra. Feel free to use stock if you have some you want to use up, or if you just prefer it. The lemon juice is essential; use more or less depending on your taste. You can use split peas in this recipe too; they’ll cook faster. For the roast potatoes, it’s hard to say how many you’ll need. I prepared six smallish ones for two people but could easily have had more. After you’ve boiled them, either chop or gently crush your potatoes into smaller chunks before roasting. They’ll get crispier the smaller they are.
Pea soup with roast potato & soft boiled egg
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 cm dice
300 g floury potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 cm dice
1 onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, peeled, and grated on a microplane or crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked chilli (optional)
225 g dried or split peas
2 tsp salt
2 l water
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
for the roast potatoes
A few floury potatoes, peeled and quartered
An egg for each person you’re serving
Add the olive oil to a large pot (minimum capacity should be 4 l) and set on a medium heat. Add the leeks, carrots, potatoes, onion, garlic, 1 tsp of salt, and the smoked chilli (if using). Mix everything together, cover with a lid, then allow everything to sweat for 10 minutes. Stir at least once to make sure the veg isn’t sticking.
Add the split peas, then the water and 1 tsp of salt. Bring to the boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. After 45 minutes, check the peas. They should be tender, so if they’re still a bit hard, keep cooking until they’re soft. Mine took over an hour to soften.
When the peas are soft, use an immersion blender to blitz the soup until it’s smooth. Add the lemon juice and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, and add more lemon juice if you like it a little zingier.
For the roast potatoes, place the peeled and quartered chunks in a saucepan, cover with water, and add ½ tsp salt. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (mine took 15 minutes). Drain well. Add them back into the pan and cover with a lid. Gently shake the pan a few times. This makes the surface of the potatoes a little “fluffy”.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. I used a 31 x 17 cm roasting tray and needed ¼ cup of vegetable oil. The oil should be a couple of mm deep, so if you are using a bigger tray use more oil. Place the tray with oil in the oven as it heats, and give it another 3 minutes once the oven is at temperature. The oil should be smoking a little. Transfer the potatoes onto the tray (they will sizzle a bit), and use a fork or spoon to help you toss each piece in the oil. Return the potatoes to the oven for 15 minutes, tossing them halfway through. They should be nicely browned, so if they still look a little blonde, give them a few more minutes. When they are roasted, transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain any excess oil.
Meanwhile, place your eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-6 minutes (large eggs will take at least 6 minutes). Drain and cover with cold water for a minute or two. Peel the eggs while they are still warm.
Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with two halves of soft boiled egg, a handful of roast potatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil. A dollop of crème fraiche wouldn’t go amiss.