Friday, November 8, 2013

Spring pea soup

Despite being famous for their elaborate fashion and cuisine, the French are masters of making simple things into something amazing.  For instance, French street fashion can be summarized as "making a gunny sack look fantastic".  Throw on a loose structureless dress, belt it at the most flattering spot for your body (or don't), finish with a scarf.  Simple!  Leave the ruching and the structural epaulets to the catwalks.

Likewise, French cooking contains a variety of very simple recipes, honed to perfection.  Listen closely.  I am about to tell you the secret of French soup making.  Are you sitting comfortably?

Take some vegetables.  It doesn't really matter what vegetables, as long as they're in season, or were frozen in season.  (But don't mix seasons.  Tomatoes and parsnips are natural enemies.)
Is it summer?  Proceed to step 4.
Step 1: Sweat the veggies in butter or olive oil.
Step 2: Now add some water or broth.
Step 3: Cook the ever living daylights out of the vegetables.  No, they're not done yet.  Put them back.  Cook them some more.
Step 4: Puree them.  Stir in a generous dollop of crème fraîche.  You're done!  

What's that you say?  French onion soup?  Bouillabaisse?  Pfui!  For tourists!  Let the bistros make that!  Or save it for a Sunday dinner when you have company.  It's fiddly and slow, and you have your next vacation to plan.

Having learned the secret of French soup making, I have been applying it liberally.  Part of this is good parenting.  My daughter will eat any vegetable known to man, as long as it's pureed. She eats bell peppers and spinach and green beans.  She eats cauliflower and artichokes and all manner of "challenging" veggies, but only after the stick blender gets to them.  Then again, I really like soup too.   It's a great way to eat seasonal veggies, it rounds out almost any meal and when you do it right, it's really unfussy, the sort of thing you can do while you're waiting for the pasta water to boil.

Now that I've laid out the principles, here's an implementation that I've been making for the past six months or so. It's fast.  It's easy and delicious.  It's more of a spring dish, but with frozen peas, you can make it year round.  Use good young peas, not the older starchy ones.

You will need:
Sweet young peas, fresh or frozen
Spring onions
Chicken broth or stock
Olive oil
Crème fraîche
Dill (optional)

Sweat finely sliced spring onions in a generous dollop of olive oil.

Once they've turned translucent, add about twice as much peas as onions, and a generous amount of fresh or frozen parsley and mint.  Maybe a pinch of dill. Sauté a minute longer.

Add chicken broth, and simmer lightly.  (Ok, we're not cooking it to death this time, but only because the peas are delicate and get yucky when overcooked.)  Puree it with a stick blender until it's really smooth.

Add a generous dollop of crème fraîche...  About 3 tbsp., rather more than shown here.

And you're done.  We had it as a starter with the courgettes farcies, but if you want to go all in, have it with lamb chops.