July 1, 2013

Garden Series Part IV: Peas in a Pod

Peas are a given when you have a garden.  But what can we actually do with them when they come into season?

If you're not very careful, they are easy to miss in a mass of tendrils and stalks.  They are very good at hiding and turn from sweet peas into starchy seeds in what seems like a matter of minutes.  When I am harvesting them, it's customary for me to stand there in the garden and eat all the ones I can find before they make the long trek to the kitchen counter.

However, this summer has provided an extended season (believe it or not, this summer has been cooler than the last couple).  My new location for peas seems to be favorable, as well, growing right up the side of a privacy fence.  That, combined with the determination to make something out of the peas, has led to a whole post with an actual recipe.

Okay, okay, so there are not pounds of peas here.  I made a reduced recipe and ate my soup all in one sitting.  But it was the right amount of peas for spending some time on the back patio shelling them and enjoying a cool morning and some peace (no homophone intended).  The soup itself took about fifteen minutes and not too much laboring over a hot stove.

I'm keeping in mind this year to use my favorite cookbook: Tender, by Nigel Slater.  Not only is the book perfect for vegetable gardeners, as it is organized by vegetable, it is beautifully written and worth reading on its own. Slater writes about each vegetable with a sort of honest reverence, without ever tipping the balance to the over-sentimental.  There is also good advice for each vegetable, like which simple ingredients pair well, gardening tips, and the names of many wonderful heirloom varieties.  And he offered me new ways to think about the humble garden pea.

Adapted from "A Green Soup for a Summer's Day;" Tender, by Nigel Slater

  • Large head of lettuce (14 oz.), chopped roughly
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped finely
  • 1 lb. peas (after shelling)
  • 1 quart vegetable broth (or water)
  • Handful of herbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Heavy cream, to garnish
  • Sumac, to garnish

As Nigel warns, wash lettuce thoroughly.  Grit ruins everything when it come to lettuce.

Melt butter over medium heat in a large pot.  Stir in onion, and cook until softened and fragrant.  Add the lettuce and stir until wilted.  Add peas along with broth and herbs and bring to a simmer.  I used lemon balm and thyme, because that's what I have.  Mint is a good idea, but I forgot to grow it this year.

Allow mixture to simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until peas are cooked.  Season with salt and pepper and puree in a blender until very smooth.  Remember to remove the center of the blender lid to allow for heat ventilation - I don't want you to have to clean soup off of the ceiling.

Pour into bowls (3 or 4) and drizzle a tablespoon or so of heavy cream over each serving.  Sprinkle with sumac. While the soup does not need to be chilled, I found that room temperature was nice.  Especially for summer.

Side note: Do NOT underestimate the value of making your own food look nice.  Presentation means a lot when you are dining out, and it can bring some cheer to your home cooked meals, too.  Initially, the sumac was just for prettiness, but it ended up adding the perfect touch of tartness and earthiness to the soup.

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