Maine Food and Lifestyle Column – Fresh Pea Soup

The new issue of Maine Food and Lifestyle came in the mail today and with it my column on fresh pea soup served hot or cold.  Try as we did to make a good looking picture of this beautiful, bright green soup, on film it looks, at best, unappealingly gray and therefore we will absolutely NOT be posting a photo of it.

Fresh Pea Soup Hot or Cold
I don’t know about what happens at your house, but when we begin shelling peas, it’s a little bit like picking berries, many go into the mouth and few go into the bucket.  This recipe is therefore, made with both pre-peas-in-the-garden or post-peas-in-the-mouth scenarios, meaning I used snow peas.

Snow peas are tender young peas that can be used whole, shell and all.  As peas mature on the vine, the shell becomes more fibrous and the peas inside larger.  At this stage, it’s the pea, not the shell, that is the treasure you harvest.  You open the shell and running your thumb or finger up the inside of the shell, remove the peas.  A word of caution about the size of the peas –pick them young.  When they get too big, meaning much bigger than the frozen kind you get at the grocery store, they become unpleasantly starchy.

For an extra burst of taste and frugality – the perfect combination – the shells can be used as a stock for your soup.  Cover them with an inch or two of lightly salted water in a stock pot.  Bring to a simmer, cook for 10 minutes and drain, reserving the liquid.

Because spring and early summer weather varies minute to minute from wanting the enveloping warmth of winter sweaters to ward off bone chilling wind and the daring thought that maybe it’s warm enough to bare your skin to the sun’s tentatively warming rays, I’ve created this soup for all weathers.  A sort of seasonal preparedness soup.
Peas are a hopeful vegetable and one that dares to go first.  The seeds are nearly impervious to the cold ground in the spring that would send a tomato seedling into hysteria.  Consequently, as soon as the snow has melted from the garden and doesn’t look like some kind of experiment in mud sculpture or pond construction, you can plant the seeds.  They may take a little longer to germinate, but when they poke their brave heads out of the ground, I know that a full garden in all its glorious scents and textures and flavors is coming to me soon.

Peas are also one of my favorite climbers.  They blanket the fences along my garden and some years I’ve even used them as climbers on my arbors and trellises.  When combined with a good summer bloomer like morning glory, they are absolutely perfect.  They give green an early boost of lime green just when it’s needed as a balm to the gardener’s soul and then produce small, but charming little white buds.  When it begins to get warm and the peas wilt and fizzle from the heat (and those tomato plants are in heaven), the morning glory takes over and is generous with it’s glorious scented blooms.

Fresh Pea Soup
Served hot with Curried, Lime Cream
Served cold with Lemon, Mint Cream

2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup diced onion, about 1 small onion
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 small clove
12 oz. snow peas, about 4 cups (or three cups of fresh shelled peas)
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
4 cups pea broth, low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Served Hot with Curried, Lime Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
pinch of salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper

Served Cold with Lemon, Mint Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
pinch of salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper

Remove the stem tip and any fiber that wants to come with it from the peas.  In a medium stock pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onions.  When the onions begin to turn translucent, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds to one minute.  Then add the peas, salt and pepper.  If you are using snow peas, sauté until they turn bright green and then remove 4 peas to julienne for garnish.  Sauté the rest of the peas for another minute or two.  Add the broth and bring to a simmer.  When the peas puff up a little, remove from heat and transfer the soup to a blender.  Place the lid on the blender, vent the lid, cover with a kitchen towel and puree the soup well.  Serve immediately or chill.  If you are making the soup ahead and plan to reheat later, be sure to heat it quickly and just until it’s hot.  Any longer will cause the bright green of the soup to turn to a muddier green (although it will still taste delish.)

Whisk all ingredients together and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to use.

Place a dollop of cream on top of the soup and add the julienned peas.

Serves 4-6

Green in the garden, yeah!

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