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In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil.
Add the onions.
Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper.
Saute for 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, bay leaf, and split peas and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the broth and ham.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or more, until the peas are tender.
Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Remove the bay leaf and discard.
Add the milk and, using a hand-held blender or potato masher, process until smooth.
Add the hot sauce if desired and serve hot.
NOTE: can be done in crockpot on high for 4-5 hours
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