This Pea Soup is one of the recipes in my Dad’s cookbook and it’s the perfect thing to have on a chilly spring day. This is also a good thing to make on a budget, you can make a big pot of it for just a few bucks.
I made this using dried split peas from the store, and added the last of the shelling peas from our spring garden. It was so creamy and velvety and delicious!
It’s warming up here in Southern CA, and it’s time to plant tomatoes, squash, basil and heat loving vegetables. I pulled out all the pea vines. I’m sad to see them go, but they were dying back anyway, and not setting any more flowers or fruit. Pea vines tend to grow in a burst, and set the best harvest all at once. Succession sowing seeds week after week in the early months of spring helps to extend the harvest.
My Dad adds ham, and a big ‘ol ham bone to his pea soup, which is very old school and uses up leftovers, but this is a great vegetarian dish without the meat. To make this vegetarian, start the soup by sautéing the veggies in olive oil, then add all the rest of the ingredients with vegetable stock. I add the fresh peas toward the last half hour of cooking so they stay bright green. Pureeing it once it’s all the way cooked makes it really creamy. Make sure to take the bay leaf out before you puree.
Have you ever spent three minutes pushing soup through a sieve? The task is as unromantic as it sounds. Spring pea soup is meant to be served in small portions as a cold appetizer or as an amuse-bouche. Amuse-bouche is a bite-sized appetizer often served cold and with wine. It’s not meant to be dropped into a punch bowl and eaten as a meal.
Loyal readers (Maura) may remember this as related to an amuse-bouche I had at Claridge’s in London. Initially I swore these were the same recipe, but the Claridge’s variation had sautéed mushrooms sitting on the bottom of the bowl; it also lacked the prevailing taste of bacon mine had…probably because I used the wrong bacon.
Like most soups, this one begins with sweating shallots in a pan. I think I may circulate that as a new allegory when it gets too hot (“man, it’s so hot, I’m sweatin’ shallots”). You also need dry white wine, chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken), and as you might have figured out, bacon. The recipe asks for peas in a pod, and then directs you to pod them. It’s one line in the recipe which takes you thirty minutes. Not only that, but your basic bag of fresh peas will not net you enough to meet the recipe once you’ve separated the peas from their pods. Desperate, I tore open my emergency frozen pea depository.
Only half the bacon was required for the soup with the rest reserved as a topping. Ramsay explained that if you cook the bacon in the oven between two baking sheets, they come out flat, which adds a nice touch. I discovered that most baking sheets don’t actually lie flat. The banal, undignified portion of the recipe involved whizzing the entire mix with a hand blender, then dropping it through a sieve. The best I got, outside of a metal colander—which isn’t good enough—is to drop it through my plastic strainer. Where before, the soup was thick and intimidating as an appetizer, now it was light and delicate.
The final touch is a drizzle of cream, which I forgot on the second attempt. I didn’t notice a difference in flavor, only in presentation. The type of bacon you use makes a big impact. I used a relatively strong brand of President’s Choice smoked bacon, which tasted great, but I found the result overpowered the key ingredient in the soup, the peas. I would saw the result was about 60% from what I had at Claridge’s.
What I Learned
I used two drying racks and placed a baking sheet under the bacon with a silicon baking mat instead of the two backing sheets. Job done. Flat bacon. Less greasy. I’ll be doing that more often. It also allows you to skip the step of patting the bacon with a paper towel. It’s good to go with just a rest. Buy good bacon though, because cheap bacon will look cheap and lack flavor if cooked this way.
I couldn’t tell you if fresh peas over frozen peas would have made a huge difference in flavor. You just have to ask yourself if that time is worth it. It’s moments like these where I wish I had a kid, or at least an unpaid commis. I know I won’t bother making this again unless I had fresh peas—I mean why bother if you are going to skimp on a key ingredient.
Other than the flat bacon technique, the one thing I learned the most is that I should own a metal chinoise before doing this again.
With presentation, I used small white bowls with traditional spoons. Claridge’s had smaller bowls with smaller spoons. I upped the ante’ on the next serving by dropping less soup into miniature Chinese tea cups with no spoons. It forced my guests into sipping the soup over gulping the entire thing. Using that technique, one batch of this soup should last a few days.