My husband and I just returned from a magical week in Paris. We strolled the cobblestone streets hand-in-hand. We marveled at the great works of art and we were awed by the magnificent churches. We discussed politics and the differences between our respective countries with our French friends. But, most importantly, we ate amazing food. From the 7 Euro petit dejeuner of rich, decadent hot chocolate, fresh-squeezed orange juice and pastries at our local cafe to the six-course extravaganza at Septime, one of Paris’s hottest tables, our week was filled with memorable dining (and snacking!) experiences. I came home from the trip inspired and itching to take my cooking to a higher level.
One thing that really impressed me was the seasonality of the cooking we ate in Paris. At the restaurants we went to the fact that it was spring was evident in every bite. We saw lots of asparagus — including some elusive white asparagus — peas, tiny new potatoes, herbs and strawberries. We felt certain if we returned to these same restaurants in July or October, the choices would be very different. As a result of this focus on the best of the season, the dishes we ate were bursting with flavor. At Septime, we both had a dessert that will haunt me forever: a tangy fromage blanc ice cream with the very first strawberries from the south of France and teeny tiny meringues to add crunch. The dish was so simple but captured the very essence of the strawberry.
On two occasions, my husband — who is a soup lover — ordered cold pea soup as his starter. Both versions were incredibly flavorful and refreshing. So when I saw English peas at the grocery store yesterday, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at this classic springtime dish. Normally, I might not go to such trouble for a first course on a weeknight. But I was still on a high from Paris — or was suffering from major jet lag — so I went for it. I’m so glad I did. The soup turned out fantastic and I was bursting with pride. This elegant dish will surely be making an appearance at my next dinner party, when more people than just my husband can be impressed by it. He was impressed enough to eat two bowls though.
I used fresh peas here, even though shelling them is a lot of extra work, because I really wanted to use the best of the springtime produce. It is very hard to find fresh peas that haven’t gotten starchy and old which is why frozen peas are so popular. I suspect you could use frozen peas in this recipe without too much harm. I may have to try it myself once the brief season for fresh peas is over.
Cold Pea Soup with Mint and Yogurt
8 oz. fresh English peas, shelled
2 cups finely chopped shallots
2 TB butter (use the best quality butter you can find)*
1 TB flour
3 cups chicken broth (homemade is best here but low-sodium canned stock will work)
4 oz. plain Greek yogurt
Handful fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chives for garnish (optional)
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Saute the shallots over low heat until softened but not browned. Sprinkle the flour over the shallots and toss to coat. saute for a few more minutes to get rid of that raw flour taste. Season with salt and pepper. Gently whisk in warm or room temperature chicken broth. Add the peas. Simmer until the peas are tender but not mushy, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Puree mixture in a food processor with the mint leaves until very smooth. Whisk in yogurt and chill. To serve, garnish with chopped chives and a dollop of yogurt.
* One of the things I brought home from Paris was Bordier butter, a favorite of French chefs. It comes in amazing flavors like smoked sea salt and seaweed. My husband thought I was loony for bringing home butter but the saleswoman at the charming épicerie where we bought it — one that specializes in products from Brittany, the coastal province in the west of France — assured me that people do it all the time. She even sold me a special insulated carrier to keep my precious butter in. I only wish I had bought more.