Thursday, May 09, 2013

Fresh Pea Soup...It's the Season!

In my much younger days I spent a summer working in Paris as part of an exchange program at the University of Louisville.  My parents had hosted many of the French students who had come to U. of L. in prior years. The mother of one of those French students, Madame Chevé, nearly adopted me. I worked not far from their apartment, and would come often for dinner, arriving well before the rest of the family. She would give me small tasks to do to help in dinner preparation.
                On a few occasions, one of the tasks was to shell fresh peas. This was not something I’d ever done before, but certainly not a difficult chore.  Several times, she made a soup she called “Potage Saint-Germain.” I wrote down almost all her recipes, and when I came home, this was one I liked to make. Later, in “classic” French cookbooks, I found recipes that were quite different. The peas were pureed, there were fewer vegetables, there was lots more butter¸ and often it was thickened with an egg yolk at the end.
                But this is the version I’ve made all these years. I like to use arugula for the greens, because I like the slightly spicy flavor.  Other greens, such as spinach, or even the dark green tops of romaine would work well. 
                This can be made more substantial with diced ham added after the soup has been pureed.  The heavy cream makes it richer but I prefer it without. I like to top it with crumbled bacon, but a dollop of sour cream, or a sprinkle of minced fresh herbs (whatever you used in the soup), or snipped chives would work just as well.
                You can make the soup base as far as the blending well ahead and keep chilled. Then reheat the soup, add the peas and simmer briefly.  What a great soup, then, for entertaining friends on a spring day!

Potage Saint-Germain

1 leek
3 tbsp. butter
1 12-oz. package frozen mirepoix mix (see note)
1 tbsp. packed, fresh tarragon, thyme or mint (or 1 tsp. dried tarragon or thyme)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup, packed, dark leafy greens
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup heavy cream (optional)
2 cups shelled fresh peas (or one 12-oz. package frozen, thawed)
Bacon crumbles, herbs or sour cream, for garnish
                Cut the root end and the thick fibrous top off the leeks, leaving the white and pale green part. Slice in half lengthwise and rinse under running water, making sure any grit or dirt is gone. Slice crosswise and reserve.               
              In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, melt the butter. Add the mirepoix mix and the leeks. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender but not browned. If using thyme or tarragon, add it now. Stir a couple of times and add the chicken stock and potatoes. 
           Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until potatoes are very tender, 15-20 minutes. Stir in the greens and let set about 10 minutes. With a blender, food processor or hand blender, puree the soup.  Flecks of the green will remain, and that’s a good thing.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
                When ready to serve, bring back to a simmer and add the peas.  If using fresh mint, add it now. Simmer just long enough for the peas to heat through. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish as desired.
                Makes four main course servings, or six first course servings.
NOTE: You may replace the frozen mirepoix mix with one cup chopped onion and ½ cup each chopped carrot and celery. But the frozen is easy, time-saving and gives excellent results in a soup to be blended later.

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