Monday, March 18, 2013

Big Mess, Little Mess – Both Great Soups
What's cooking? Cold Spring Pea Soup

A note to readers: At the outset, I want to say that this post does not include the recipe for “my” famous gumbo, because in fact what I make is not “my” gumbo, but the gumbo of a brilliant cook who goes by the name of Crescent Dragonwagon. Her magnificent recipe, if you are so inclined, is on pages 237-240 of The Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread: A Country Inn Cookbook. But if you keep reading this post, you'll find a much easier recipe, this one for Cold Pea Soup.

I made gumbo yesterday. Or rather, I made gumbo yesterday afternoon and so far into the evening that it poked a hole in today. Good thing I’m a nightowl.

Some people, learning how long it takes to make, would tell me I’m crazy. And they might be right. At least a couple of times during the process, I had to stop and do some stretching exercises just to keep my shoulders from seizing up.

Why do I do it? First, because I am unable to resist a recipe with a long list of ingredients, especially if many of them are spices. It's part of what draws me to cooking in the first place: I want to know how the tastes combine, how the flavors marry. Second, if you’ve ever had really good Southern gumbo, you will understand the lure of those six bunches of greens, plus parsley, onions, bell peppers, and celery, and all those spices rumbling around together with the dark brown, deeply nutty roux that is the basis of the dish. There’s simply nothing like it. And once I’ve made a batch of the base, I have enough to feed 50; so if I package the base into plastic containers and freeze it, then all year long, I can have gumbo for small groups of friends whenever it strikes my fancy.

The number of pages it takes Ms. Dragonwagon to write her recipe is some hint as to how long it takes to make it. And the toll on my kitchen is considerable. Just out of a perverse need to amaze myself, I made a list of the dishes and utensils I dirtied in this endeavor:

■ 2 skillets
■ 7 spatulas
■ 2 large wooden spoons
■ 3 knives
■ 3 giant bowls
■ 3 small bowls
■ 3 whisks
■ 1 food processor (twice)
■ 1 giant soup pot

On the other side of that overload, I have the soup recipe I made for my book group this week. From start to finish, it took me about an hour. Also one saucepan, one blender, one bowl. Nice, huh? And it got raves from the dozen ladies who shared it with me that night. It’s the perfect starter course for a dinner, or accompaniment to a light lunch. Low fat, no sugar. And with spring waving at us from later this week, it’s a great way to celebrate the end of winter.

I found the original version of this soup on (Gourmet, May 1992), but have tweaked it a bit with touches from another cold pea soup I saw demonstrated at the Culinary Institute, so now it’s mine. My feelings about it are perfectly captured in one of the comments (on the original recipe) from online reviewers: “I strained it and served it (to myself) in a glass with ice cubes. It was really good, and I drank it all immediately. Next time I'll double the recipe and save some for the next day.”

Cold Spring Pea Soup

10-ounce package frozen peas
¼ cup parsley leaves, whole
¾ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup no-fat plain yogurt

In a saucepan, simmer the peas and the parsley in the broth, covered, for 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender, and add the mint, the buttermilk, and the yogurt. Purée the mixture until smooth, about 3 minutes. Chill until cold in the refrigerator, or transfer the soup to a bowl set in a larger container of ice and cold water and chill it, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until it is cold.

Serves 2-3.

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