I went for a bracing soup this week. Based on a recipe in The Best of Gourmet 1988, it's been a favorite of mine for a long time. I've monkeyed with it, of course, but it turns out delicious every time. The good news is that it's an easy recipe in that everything basically goes into a big pot and simmers for three hours. The bad news is that after ignoring the soup for three hours, it needs to be pureed, which is messy but worth doing because it results in a lovely velvety texture.

The original recipe called for 10 cups of water, but I prefer the denser consistency achieved by using less water. If you don't have kielbasa handy, the recipe also works with pork chops or ham. I think it's best if you have leftover pork bones to toss into it (be sure to take them out before pureeing!). It's a nice way to use the leftover bone from a ham. Kielbasa probably adds more flavor since it's already laden with spices, but I've made it many times with ham and it's always great. On one notable occasion, since I didn't have an onion, I substituted an entire bulb of garlic, chopped. It was still delicious.

One other big bonus is that this can be made ahead of time. It keeps nicely in the fridge for a couple of days. Serve by the fire with a loaf of crusty bread and a creamy cheese.

Rainy Day Split Pea Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion (or, should you be avoiding vampires, 1 entire garlic bulb)

1 pound dried split peas

2 cups carrot slices (about 5 average carrots)

3/4 cup sliced celery

1 kielbasa

1 ham bone (or several pieces of leftover bone from pork)

8 to 10 cups of water

1 large bay leaf

salt (to taste -- depends on how salty the kielbasa is)

Over medium low heat, melt the butter and saute the onions until soft. Add the peas, carrots, celery, kielbasa, pork bones, water and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer for three hours. Hint: for a thicker soup use 8 cups water, 10 cups for a thinner soup.

Puree in a blender or food processor. Hint: no matter how large your food processor or blender, do this in batches and pour them into a large container so you can stir them all together when done. Serve hot.

If you want to dress it up, toss some croutons on top. No croutons? Use mini cookie cutters to cut pieces of soft bread and toast them at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Add to soup at last minute as a garnish.