7.2 Edible Witness

Peas and thank you

On their own or in a soup, fresh-shelled peas are the quintessential taste of summer
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On their own or in a soup, fresh-shelled peas are the quintessential taste of summer
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Since I am fond of making assumptions and bold claims, I’m going to declare that people who think they don’t like peas haven’t eaten them freshly shelled. For those who’ve only had the opportunity to eat the shrivelled, frozen variety, or even (gasp) the drab-green globules of sadness known as canned peas, you’ve been missing out. Fresh peas are firm and taste grassy and sweet, providing a pleasant pop to any number of dishes (soups, pastas, salads — you get the picture). I dare you to grab a pound of fresh-shelled peas, steam them for a few minutes, and top with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt and tell me I’m wrong.

The converted will not mind taking, say, five pounds of peas and shelling them all to make this chilled pea soup. Personally, I find this process, while time consuming, rather soothing, and if you’ve got a back porch or balcony, why not enjoy the work al fresco, maybe with a keg-sized glass of wine? If still unconvinced, you can often get pre-shelled fresh peas at the grocery store. If you must, frozen will do — but fresh lends a sweetness Chilled pea soup with bacon and garlic cream and texture that can’t be duplicated.

When buying fresh pea pods, look for bright green ones whose skins are intact and not mottled or yellowing, and that don’t rattle when you shake them (this indicates they’ve dried out). Avoid the larger, thickerskinned ones — the smaller, younger peas are the freshest, and should make a popping sound when you shell them. It’s best to shell right before you cook, as the sugar levels start to drop not long after they’re out of their pods. If you want to extend the life of your peas, blanch them in boiling water for a couple minutes, remove to an ice bath, then drain and freeze in a Ziploc bag.

This soup would be just as lovely consumed on your own as with a dinner party of friends on a warm summery night. Fresh peas make an appearance for a brief but glorious stint starting soon and ending in July, so I recommend you start shelling now.

Chilled pea soup with bacon and garlic cream

8 slices of thick-cut bacon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 onion, diced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
5 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
2 rosemary sprigs
Kosher salt
3–4 lbs shelled fresh peas (about 5 cups)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup skim milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove, minced
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

1. In medium pot, cook bacon over medium heat until browned and crispy. Remove bacon and pour off bacon fat. Crumble half the bacon and set aside.

2. In same pot, heat olive oil on medium-low. Add celery, onion and leek and cook gently until softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add stock, uncrumbled bacon slices, 1 rosemary sprig and a pinch of salt. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes. Discard bacon and rosemary. Blend remaining ingredients.

3. Meanwhile, bring medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add peas and cook for about 2 minutes. Add peas and parsley to blender (or pot, if using a hand blender), and purée until smooth, adding about 1 cup skim milk or broth to thin out the soup until it reaches desired consistency. Transfer soup to a large bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water to cool, or refrigerate overnight.

4. In small saucepan, bring heavy cream, garlic and remaining rosemary sprig to a boil. Simmer over low heat until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Strain garlic cream into a bowl and let cool.

5. Season chilled soup with salt to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with garlic cream. Top each bowl with crumbled bacon, extra parsley, ground black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Soup and cream can be refrigerated separately for up to 2 days.

— Adapted from Daniel Boulud’s recipe in Café Boulud Cookbook (Scribner, 1999)

Sara Chan is a Toronto-based entertainment lawyer, food enthusiast and unprofessional home chef. Her favourite food group is pork.

Photo: FotografiaBasica via iStockphoto