Nothing compares to the sweet, earthy, and verdant flavor of fresh peas, especially when they are picked right from the garden. This year, for the first time, I proudly grew peas. It was so spectacular to watch the plants grow, attach themselves to the trellis, and sprout snapdragon-like flowers that turned into pods bursting with peas. Rather than eating peas as a sometimes boring side dish, I love peas in soup. In the fall and winter I enjoy making split pea soup, but in the summer making fresh pea soup is a rite of the season.
The bright green color of this luscious soup comes from cooking the peas just until tender but not brown. The flavor base is rounded out with slowly sautéed shallots and leeks. Just before puréeing fresh mint is added, bringing the verdant flavor to an apex. Add a touch of cream to lighten the color and for a bit of richness. This soup is truly the flavor of summer in one dish.
Growing peas is very easy. Choosing a sunny spot in the garden with well-draining soil is key. Sow the peas, water well, and watch them grow. For this recipe, shell peas and sugar snap peas work well. Sugar snap peas can be eaten whole, cooked, or even raw. I love to snap one off from the bush and eat it right then. That's a great way to check the tenderness of the peas inside too. Don't let the peas get too old because they will be tough. When shopping for peas look for tender ones by testing them with a bite. If the individual pea inside the pod is too old, the two halves inside, which make up split peas, will start to force the thin peel apart.
Fresh Garden Pea Soup
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and light-green parts, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock
3 cups shelled peas
3 mint leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
chives, for garnish
Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add shallots and leek. Cook until translucent and soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add peas and cook until tender but still green, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add mint.
Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until silky smooth. Push through a fine-mesh sieve over a pot. Return to heat and warm. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with chopped chives. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.