September 30, 2011
Sweet Pea Soup For Spring
Spring, what Spring?
That's the feeling here in cold, cloudy Canberra at the moment.
Our long awaited long-weekend promises wind, rain and sundry other nasties instead of soft Spring sunshine and open windows. Sigh...
To combat the blues that the weather is bringing, I decided to cook some greens to lift my spirits and remind me that Spring is really here.
Fresh little peas and crisp, sweet lettuce are some of the delights of the season. It's a bit early still in my garden, but the local markets are bursting at the seams with fresh veggies just waiting to be consumed by healthy appetites.
In a brave move away from stick-to-your-ribs hearty winter meals, I decided to go with a soup I first made for one of my apprenticeship exams, Fresh Pea and Lettuce Soup. Lovely and light, soft and silky, fresh and fabulous! The perfect light lunch or first course for a Spring feast.
Now, don't screw up your nose at cooked lettuce. Just because you haven't tried it before doesn't mean it isn't any good. Trust me. There are references to lettuce soup in ancient Roman cookbooks, and even Escoffier included several recipes in his repertoire. So with a pedigree like that, you might want to be brave and give it a go yourself.
Fresh Pea and Lettuce Soup
500g fresh garden peas
(or you can use frozen, just don't tell anyone)
Half a head of lettuce
1 white onion
500ml chicken stock
100-250ml lactose free cream
Few stems of mint
1/2 - 1 tsp white castor sugar
Chop the white onion quite small, and sweat it down in a splash of oil or butter. You don't want to brown it at all, just cook it down slowly to soften it and bring out the natural sweetness. When it's about halfway done I like to pop in a couple of stems of mint and let them wilt down too as they release their flavour. Pull out the stems before the next step.
Pour in the stock, bring to the simmer, then add in the peas. The tender peas shouldn't really need cooking, just heating all the way through. Try not to let them boil away as we want to keep a vibrant flavour and colour.
Once well heated, take it off the heat and add in the shredded lettuce and stir it through. The heat in the stock and peas will quickly wilt the lettuce down. Pop in a dozen or so mint leaves, and the cream - starting with a small amount.
Blend the soup thoroughly. You want a soft silky texture, not gritty from unmashed pea skins. Add in more cream as needed to get a nice light soup.
Taste for seasoning. You'll certainly need the salt to carry the flavours, you might need a pinch or so of sugar to boost the natural sweetness, and if necessary, you could add a tiny splash of WHITE balsamic for a bit of sweet acidity. If this is served cold, you'll need to taste it again after chilling as flavours tend to dampen in the fridge.
I also made some prosciutto shards by baking some slices in the oven until crisp and earthshatteringly crunchy, and some parmesan crisps by piling finely grated shreds onto a baking sheet and baking until just starting to melt together. Just for some gratuitous foodie bling.
I love this soup cold, but it's lovely warm too. Not hot, just nicely warm- the way the sun should be at this time of year. Gentle and mild, like the flavours of the lettuce and peas smoothed out with cream.
A big, thick Winter soup is usually served in a big, thick bowl- but this is a light, fresh Spring soup so I served it in a glass to reflect that - and to thumb my nose at the sleet outside!
So, my Dearest Readers,
have you ever eaten cooked lettuce, and how are you spending your long weekend?