Last weekend, I hosted a dinner party that we had donated to our church school auction. It was an “Evening in Paris” menu, for the 12 who signed up for it. We started the evening with assorted canapés. To accompany them, we served Lillet Blanc, a French apéritif, with a slice of orange and a splash of soda. This gave folks a chance to mingle and chat before being seated.
The first seated course was a chilled soup. Many years ago, when I first started going to France, chilled soups weren´t all that common in France except perhaps along the Mediterranean, or near Spain, where gazpacho might have made it onto the menu. But now, with all the young ambitious new chefs making the Parisian scene, it´s not at all unusual to see one on a summer menu.
The obvious advantage to a chilled soup is that it can be made ahead. In fact it must be made ahead to allow it to chill and for the flavors to develop. Another advantage to this one is that there’s very little preparation involved, since we’re using canned pears. If you prefer to use fresh pears, make sure they’re ripe, and poach five or six in water with a little sugar. A little splash of white wine wouldn’t hurt in the poaching liquid, either.
I like to garnish this with snipped chives and a few crumbles of blue cheese. While Roquefort would be a nice match to the flavors in the soup, it’s become enormously expensive. You can quite nicely substitute another crumbly blue cheese, such as gorgonzola or Maytag blue.
For the wine pairing, we served an Alsatian white blend, Hugel Gentil. It was the perfect match.
Chilled Pear Cardamom Soup
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 small shallots, peeled and minced (3 to 4 tbsp.)
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 can (29 oz.) pears, drained
Juice and finely grated zest of one large lemon
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups half-and-half cream
Salt and ground white pepper, to taste
3 oz. blue cheese crumbles, for garnish
Chives, for garnish
In a skillet, cook the shallots in the oil until soft. Add the cardamom and cook, stirring, about two more minutes. Put the pears in a food processor and add the shallot mixture. Pulse a couple of times, then add the lemon juice and zest and the chicken stock. Process until very smooth. Pour into a bowl and whisk in the half-and-half. Add salt and ground white pepper to taste. Chill for at least three hours, or until very cold. Taste again before serving. You might need a little more salt. Serve in soup cups or flat soup bowls, topped with the blue cheese and chives. Serves 6.