Spring officially arrived around 3:45 p.m. on Friday, but who’s counting? This calls for a celebration, I’d say. And since my mother has been obsessed with Sugar Snap Peas and whether or not we need to replant them, my mind has been swirling around the topic of peas in general – Pea Soup to be precise. And so we shall do our spring happy dance with a moonwalk or two thrown in, and make ourselves some Spring Pea Soup. We won’t be satisfied with just the soup however. I have a tendency to go a little overboard when it comes to cooking, and you will discover that soon enough. Overboard we go: I’ll show you how to make a super simple Vegetable Broth, which will be the backbone of the Spring Pea Soup. Then we’ll fancy it up a little by making some Crème Fraiche to drop on top of each bowl and swirl around the top so it looks all gussied up. Since we do not live by soup alone, I’ll also show you how to make an easy, but so good your eyes will roll back in your head Parmesan Cracker. And there you have it – just the thing for a cool spring evening. Amaze your friends and family, and break out those seed catalogs!
STEP 1 – VEGETABLE BROTH
Believe me when I tell you – this is easy. That being said, if you don’t have the ingredients on hand, or you just plain aren’t in the mood, skip the whole thing and use store bought vegetable broth and it will still be just fine. The first thing to do is assemble your ingredients. No need to be fancy – vegetables need to be washed but not peeled. You can use any combination you like but it just makes it all the better if you choose vegetables that are going to compliment what you are cooking. In this case, I chose carrots, celery, some peppers (not in the photo since it didn’t dawn on me until everything was in the soup pot to add them), onion, garlic, a bunch of herbs and carrot tops, whole peppercorns and salt.
Once everything is assembled and chopped to your satisfaction, into the soup pot it goes. Cover with water and you’re in business.
Bring to a boil, and then turn the burner down to simmer. Let simmer for about an hour, or until the vegetables and herbs are soft and have given up all of their mojo to the broth. Here’s how it looks at 30 minutes:
After one hour, you’ll be all ready to strain the solids from the liquid. Here’s how it looks after one hour:
Use a fine mesh strainer if you have one to make sure most of the little bits of this and that stay in the strainer, and don’t get into your broth. Kind of like this:
And when all is said and done, you have a fragrant, delicious vegetable broth. Aren’t you the smart one!
- 4 carrots, cut into 1 inch cubes (no need to peel)
- Carrot tops from carrots, roughly chopped
- 4 stalks celery (use inner leaves if you have them) cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 4 cloves of garlic, skin left on and smashed
- 6 mushrooms, cleaned and halved
- 2 green, red, or yellow peppers, seeds removed, quartered
- Fresh herbs of your choice (basil, tarragon, oregano, thyme, lovage, etc.). Use two nice big handfuls.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Enough water to cover the vegetables & herbs.
- Prepare all ingredients and place in a large stockpot.
- Cover with cold water, bring to boil, and simmer for about one hour.
- Strain off solids and use or cool until ready to use.
You can be as adventurous as you like with this stock, and substitute all kinds of vegetables for what is listed above. Just be wary of those that are extremely strong flavored or that might surprise you with a sulfurous taste (like broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts). Leeks are excellent in stocks as long as you make sure and clear all the sand out from inside. You can use the green parts that you would normally throw away. Get crazy! I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?
Stock freezes very well, so if you have extra just put in a glass jar, freeze in ice cube trays, or pour into a Ziplock bag and freeze flat until ready to use.
HOW WOULD YOU MAKE IT YOURS?
STEP 2 – LET’S MAKE SOME SPRING PEA SOUP
This is so simple you won’t believe it, but please try. The first thing to do is put about 3 cups of Vegetable Broth in a blender, and then add about the same amount of defrosted green peas. No, you do not have to cook the peas before doing this. These peas have already been blanched and they are ready to go. If you cooked them before blending, they would just look all wrinkled and sad. Besides, doing so would make them give up some of that brilliant green color we are banking on to make the soup look eye popping later.
Now comes the time for modest restraint – just for a few seconds. Start the blender off on a slow speed so everything gets a chance to get mixed up. Then go for it – blend that baby on high for a good minute or until it is super smooth.
Once all of your pureeing is done, pour into a nice big soup pot or Dutch oven. Repeat all this until you’ve used up all of the peas and 6 cups of the broth.
This is the point that you want to check to make sure the thickness of the soup is how you like it. Personally, I like some body to this soup, but not so much that I feel like I’m sipping something so thick it can stand up to a fork. If it’s too thick, just add some more broth. If it’s too thin to suit you, just heat slowly until it reduces to the thickness you like. Don’t forget to check for seasoning – time to see if you need salt and/or pepper please.
When the soup is piping hot and the thickness is just right, now it’s time to fancy it up and add a little richness at the same time by swirling around some Crème Fraiche. This is also easy: just drop little dollops of Crème Fraiche strategically (in other words wherever you feel like) on top of the soup. Then drag a wooden skewer, chop stick, or tip of a sharp knife through the dollops and there you have it.
Wait a second, we almost forgot the Parmesan Cracker. Now we’re ready to dive in! Crème Fraiche and Parmesan Cracker recipes coming right up.
Spring Pea Soup Recipe – Come This Way……
STEP 3 – HOW ABOUT SOME CRÈME FRAICHE WITH THAT?
What in the heck is Crème Fraiche anyhow? Simple – its just whipping cream that has had a fermenting agent added to it in order to provide a subtle tang. In this case buttermilk or plain yogurt is added. One of many really good things about Crème Fraiche: it has a fat content of about 30% which means it will not ‘break’ or curdle when heated. This will come in handy often, especially if you are a person who has a tendency to look away from a pot just as it begins to boil. You can use Crème Fraiche in or on soups, in sauces, tossed with pasta, in dips and spreads. Pretty much everything. We begin at the beginning, with the ingredients:
The next item on our to-do list is to cover it tightly. You can use plastic wrap, or just put your mixture in a quart jar with a tight fitting lid. Your call.
And now it goes into a warm cozy place (at our house it goes on top of the hot water heater) for 12-24 hours. Yes, you can peek. Yes, you can use a chop stick (one of my favorite kitchen tools) or something non-metal to stir it if you want to. If it isn’t cooperating, check the recipe notes for tips. You may have used ultra-posturized whipping cream. Don’t fret – this can be remedied. When you have been patient and let all those little bacteria do their work, you will be rewarded. Check it out. Ain’t she pretty?
Crème Fraiche Recipe – Right Over Here….
STEP 4 – I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I’M GOING TO NEED A PARMESAN CRACKER WITH THAT
Parmesan Crackers are typically made with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which is the Cadillac real deal of the cheese world, and carries the price tag to prove it. Pssst: The only time I’ve ever used it in these crackers was in the photos for this blog posting. In other words, use whatever you feel like. I usually use domestic Parmesan, or Grana Padano (Reggiano’s poor but in my opinion better tasting third cousin once removed), Asiago, Romano, Provolone or whatever I have on hand. See recipe notes for blinking yellow caution notes however.
You can grate the cheese using a Microplane grater, a box grater, or my favorite option, using a food processor since it is the least labor intensive and I am a little on the lazy side. If you use a food processor, use one-inch cubes and start with just a few to create a base for adding the rest. This reduces the risk of a major cheese snarl in the processor, and you do not want to be in a position of trying to remove firmly entranced hunks of cheese from processor blades. Trust me on this.
For this recipe, you’ll want to keep processing until the cheese is in fine little crumbs. This will make your cracker look more like a cracker and less like you don’t know what you’re doing.
By now your oven is preheated to 350 degrees, and it’s time to make those crackers. I used a 2 tablespoon sized coffee spoon but that makes a pretty good-sized cracker. Feel free to use 1 tablespoon if you want, after all, it is your food we’re talking about. Once on the sheet, just smash them down a little bit to help them spread out when they start to melt. They will spread out, so you might want to start with just 6 crackers on a cookie sheet to see how it goes.
Soup and crackers anyone?
Parmesan Crackers Recipe – Follow Your Nose Here….