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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spring, Spring, Spring!!





Well my Blog Friends, it’s been a while, yet again!  Easter has come and gone (I owe you some recipe’s there), so has Memorial Day, and here we are in June!  As with everyone’s lives, quite a bit has happened in the interim… I have been home to NY twice, once alone for my nephew Chris’ communion and again with Tim for my niece, Elsa’s communion.  Book end trips for May.  It was lovely weather and so wonderful to see the entire clan twice in just a few weeks!  A real treat!  Seven (and a half) nieces and nephews, that’s a lot of kids running around at once!
What does Spring mean to you?  With me, it means the garden and fresh peas, fresh vegetables and my beloved peonies and lilacs.  I am completely in love with big blowsy peonies (see my pic from last years crop above), and I have a bunch of them planted in our small garden.  My ultimate goal is to have a very English overgrown garden, but after 4 years of working on it, I have an overgrown garden with many weeds, some crazy rudibeckia, and an overabundance of mint, but also some beloved plantings.  Some of them I put in myself, some were there before I lived in Tim’s house.  All of them I love, although I did pull out and give away the majority of the day lilies… they’re not my cup of tea.  This year I added bachelors buttons, some iris, a huge pink and yellow flowered honeysuckle and, finally, some herbs and tomato’s!  Even with Tim’s intense dislike of tomato, I bought some very hardy Hungarian tomato’s and planted them in pots.  We shall see how that comes along.  I also planted basil, lemon thyme and two types of sage, purple and golden.  I am not a huge fan of sage, but you can’t beat a simple pasta tossed with browned butter and fried sage leaves, so there you go!

Now, I did mention peas just a bit ago, and although it’s a bit too early this year for the fresh kind, I can’t sing the praises of frozen peas enough.  And, in the long run, they’re very versatile all year ‘round, not to mention delicious!  So, when I was at a loose end this week, I decided to make a frozen pea soup.  It’s wonderful hot, but also can be delicious and refreshing as a cold soup.  I also added in some cubes of browned queso fresco, which I just happened to have a block of from Costco (I know, I know… no judgments’, please!)  I was thrilled and Tim wanted it two nights in a row, so it must have been good!  I am giving you the basic idea below, but you can certainly change up the spices, or leave them out entirely… it’s all up to you!

Spiced Up Spring Pea Soup

2 tablespoons of good olive oil (or as an alternative, I used garlic oil to punch up the flavor)
1 medium onion chopped
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Good grinding of fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground chervil (use parsley if you don’t have chervil)
1 teaspoon dried ground basil
1 tablespoon dried ground cumin (or 1 teaspoon whole cumin bashed around)
1 teaspoon hot paprika or any hot chili powder (it’s optional and totally to your taste)
3 – 4 cloves of fresh garlic sliced
2 bags of frozen peas (believe me, it’s MUCH easier to do this with frozen)
4 cups of good quality, low sodium vegetable stock (or no meat chicken stock or water)
1 cup of water set aside to thin if necessary
1 block of queso fresco (or halloumi would be great here!)

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, with a heavy bottom.  Add the onion and salt on medium heat and cook until transparent and soft (about 7 minutes), stir as much as possible so they don’t brown and stick.  Add in the remaining spices and cook for a minute or two until well mixed and you can smell the spice mixture.  Allow to cook for a few minutes.  Add in the garlic and frozen peas and stir to coat.  You don’t want the garlic to fry, just to cook.  Add in the stock or water, stir well to combine, and cook, uncovered for about 10 – 15 min, until you see the soup start to boil and the peas are bright green and cooked.  At this point take it off the heat and taste it.  It should be flavorful, and you should definitely taste the sweetness of the peas in the broth.  Adjust the seasoning as you would like.  After it has cooled for a few minutes, use and immersion blender to puree the soup.  It’s up to you if you want it chunky or completely pureed smooth, but remember that if you’re chilling it, smoother is much better (or at least it is to me.)  After the soup is pureed, return it to the heat and let it simmer for a while.  Use the additional water to thin this if it’s too thick for your palate.  Don’t overcook this, unless you love mushy peas….. enough said.  Serve in bowls with the cheesy garnish.

To serve, I flash fried some cubes of queso fresco, the trick to that is a dry non-stick pan.  Place the cubes in a hot pan, have your tongs ready, as soon as you see it looking “melted” on the side touching the pan, grip them tightly with the tongs and turn them over.  The tight grip is key to the browned bottom releasing and turning over…  Let them brown on the other side for another minute and immediately place them in your bowl of green soup.  It’s delicious, and a nice change to bread cubes.  Another idea would be browned cubes of polenta… YUM!