For a little extra flavor, peel the onion and carrot and trim the celery before starting the stock and add them to the stock.
Place ham bone, bay leaves and three quarts water in large pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours till tender.
Remove bone and when cool enough to handle, shred meat and set aside. Skim as much fat as possible from the top of the broth. (This is a good place to stop if you’re not making it for tonight’s meal – just refrigerate the broth and skim off any fat that accumulates on the top the next day.)
Add split peas and thyme, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.
While the split peas simmer, caramelize the onion, carrot and celery. Heat oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat and add the vegetables. Stir until all are coated in oil and warm, then add 1/4 cup of water. Place lid on skillet and steam vegetables, checking now and then, until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown on the edges, five to six minutes. Unlid, reduce heat and add the butter, garlic and sugar. Cook slowly, stirring now and then till vegetables reach a deep caramelized color, about 25 to3 20 minutes longer.
After the peas have cooked for about 45 minutes, add in the cooked vegetables, the potatoes, and the shredded ham meat. Reserve a bit of the ham for garnish if desired. Simmer till potatoes are tender and soup is consistency of heavy cream, about 20 more minutes; add a little water or stock if you dave it if too thick. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and add minced red onion, reserved ham, if desired.
Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Carrots, celery, Cook's Illustrated, Dried Beans, Freezes Well, Ham, leftover ham, Potatoes, Soup, Split pea