The Maven

Can life get any better than a sunny day at a tiny restaurant in an obscure  Northern Italian town? Perhaps. I could be cooking. Or browsing the local markets. Or talking history, culture and the price of tea in China with the locals.

Join me as I explore what the world has to offer where food meets culture.


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    « Watermelon salad days. | Main | Glazed radishes? Of course you can cook radishes! »

    Fresh, fresh, really fresh pea soup.

    Oh, yikes! The Marin Farmers Market makes my head swim! Held every Sunday morning at the Marin County Civic Center - just a mile from the kid’s house in San Rafael, California - it’s a foodie paradise! I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve on Saturday night. I sit there perusing recipes, considering the goodies that I’ll find and how best to use them.

    This trip it was peas! Well, there was also a wonderful little goat loin roast - but that’s in the freezer for the time being.

    We love pea soup. Even the conventional split pea that just about every restaurant offers on those cold, bleak winter days satisfies. But when Spring has sprung, it’s gotta be delicate fresh pea soup.

    I can’t say “no” to plump shelling peas. Buying them is a treat, but I truly enjoy the process of standing over my kitchen counter - with some good music going - and shell peas! It’s one of those old homey things that bring back lots of pleasant memories of summertime, gardens, grandmothers, great aunties and other kitchens of long ago.

    I shell a few. I eat a few. Dance around the kitchen a bit and sing out of tune.

    A small glass of white wine doesn’t hurt.

    This soup is a small labor of love. It’s not terribly hard, or complicated. It doesn’t require any special ingredients per se. Shelling the peas, and then putting the soup through a strainer, after blending takes the most time. The cooking parts are really nothing.

    Oh, and when buying shelling peas - be sure to buy about 3X more than you will have shelled peas. I bought about 3 pounds for this recipe. Everybody was standing there at the market teasing me about how much I was buying. “Why don’t you just buy the whole box?” said my husband.

    And, these are not the same thing as Sugar Snap Peas. Those can be eaten pod and all. Not Shelling Peas - also known as English Peas.

    If you want a soup special enough to really impress guests - this would be it. Fresh pea soup can be so simple and yet amazingly elegant - and it easily pairs with almost any meat, from lamb, to pork, to chicken, to wild game. And it can be made the day before, as it reheats just beautifully.

    Fresh Pea Soup


    5 cups of fresh peas, shelled*

    4 cups of low-sodium, double strength chicken, or vegetable, broth

    4 ounces of carrot juice ( I used Lakewood Organic Carrot Juice ). The carrot juice adds a lovely yet subtle tang, and, really, what goes more naturally with peas than carrots? And, you can use the remaining juice in carrot soup later!

    1/2 cup white wine - such as a white blend, or a white Bordeaux

    2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    3 large shallots, finely minced

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    2-3 tablespoons of French Pot Herbs (from The Spice House) or your own equivilant blend of parsley, chives, chervil, French thyme, marjoram and bay leaf.

    1-2 large Bay leaves, or a scant half teaspoon of powdered Turkish Bay Leaves (also available at the Spice House)

    Kosher salt, to taste

    Finely ground black pepper, to taste


    About 2 tablespoons of finely snipped fresh chives

    4-6 tablespoons of crumbled goat cheese/Chevre



    In a nice heavy-bottomed soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the minced shallots in the butter until nearly transparent. Add the peas, carrot juice, wine and the broth - simmer until the peas are tender. Stir in all the herbs, salt, pepper, bay leaves or powdered bay leaf and the remaining butter.

    Set up your blender, a bowl or basin with a strainer. Get a kitchen towel to put over the blender! Don’t try and be clever with this. You really, really do want to put that kichen towel over the top of the blender, before hitting the ‘On’ switch. Hold the top on really, really tight. Then go ‘Low’, then to ‘High’. 

    Never, NEVER, fill your blender more than 1/4 full of hot soup! Unless, of course, you want to clean it off the ceiling and walls.

    Process, in batches, to very silky smoothness. Now, you can quit here and serve. But if you’re trying to impress the guests, go the rest of the way with the strainer. Some thickish solids will remain in the strainer after each batch. That will go back into the blender with any remaining broth for a final blend at high speed. I’m going for the last drop of flavor!

    One thing that I want to tell you about working with recipes - taste your way through them! This is what actual cooking is about. If you aren’t sure about adding an ingredient - no worries! Add it to just a spoon full and see what happens. Then you haven’t ruined anything. You should be tasting your way from the salted water to pre-cook vegetables in, right through each and every step to the finished product.

    Cooking is as much art as science. Recipes are just a general guideline. Inspiration.

    So, now you will have a velvety smooth, fresh tasting soup worthy of a fine dinner party first course.

    Take your strained soup, and add it back into the pot to barely simmer for about 30 minutes. Don’t let it boil. And now, is the time to adjust your seasonings.

    This soup can make a meal, especially when paired up with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. For purposes of plating for a nice presentation, I put crumbled goat cheese in the bottom of each bowl - ladle in the hot soup, and then top with the snipped chives. You could also top it with buttered croutons.


    * If you’ve mis-calculated and don’t have enough fresh peas, simply make up the difference with frozen peas. In fact, this can be made with frozen peas, too.

    - If you want a bit thicker soup, add a potato to it. Simply cut up a peeled russet potato into small dice, boil until very tender, and add to the peas in the blender.






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