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Season to Taste

Pea season on the Cape is short and sweet. You get three weeks, give or take a few days for a bad or good year. It’s not very much time to eat your fill. There are so many good local varieties—Lincoln and Coral and Sugar Snap and Early Frosty. It makes me a bit frantic.

The thing is, I like peas in all sorts of things. First of all, I love them plain, blanched, and eaten hot and sweet. I like them both fresh and cooked tossed into salads with butter lettuce and herbs, and I like them pureed with thick Greek yogurt and tossed as a sauce with garlic and orrechiette pasta. I like them over linguine with bacon and wilted arugula. I like them straight from the garden and out of the freezer in the middle of December.

Season to Taste

We grew them in our home garden this summer for the first time. I’ve planted them before without any luck, but this time Sally helped me do a thick, early sowing. I was planting too late before; this year, they went into the ground on Saint Paddy’s Day. It snowed three times in the next week, but the peas germinated and flourished all the same.

Now that the pods are ripe, I’ve been eating the peas in soup. The recipe I like comes from a Darina Allen cookbook, Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It’s a newer cookbook, but it has an old-fashioned philosophy: Allen thinks we ought to teach every generation to cook, to eat in season, to cook with thrift, and to learn from our elders. I haven’t had a single recipe disappoint me.

This soup is a lovely introduction to Darina’s philosophy. You start with fresh peas, scallions, bacon, and butter—cooks like Darina aren’t afraid of a little animal fat. You sweat the bacon in the butter and sauté the scallions, then add lettuce, mint, chicken stock, sea salt and pepper, and a tiny pinch of sugar to taste. The icing on the cake is a few spoonfuls of heavy cream.

What you get is a soup that tastes very much of summer. You can serve it hot or cold, though I prefer it warm even on the hottest days. Everything gets pureed, and the soup is incredibly smooth and velvety. It’s also beautiful—a perfect pastel green—and if you want to really knock a guest’s socks off, you can serve it in white bowls with a garnish of pea tendrils and a few fresh peas.

We’ve made it three times this season already. I hope you’ll get to it—hurry! But if you don’t—there are, after all, only three short weeks—don’t worry. It’s best with fresh peas, but still quite good with frozen ones in the depths of winter.

Happy pea season, everybody.

RECIPE

Summer Green Pea Soup

This soup tastes like a hot July day, and it’s best eaten on one too. That said, peas freeze well, and frozen ones will make a very good version any time of year. Be sure to read the note below about cooking time—overcooking will cause the soup to lose its beautiful green color.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 slice bacon, chopped fine
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds peas, fresh or frozen
  • a few leaves of lettuce, shredded
  • a sprig of mint
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and sugar to taste
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • optional: pea tendrils and a handful of fresh peas for garnish

1. Warm up the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. 

2. Add the bacon and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add the scallions and cook another few minutes, until they start to get tender. Add the peas, lettuce, mint, and chicken stock, and season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

3. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the peas are just tender.

4. Puree the soup and stir in the cream. Serve warm, and if you like, garnished with fresh peas and pea tendrils.

If you make the soup ahead, reheat it with the cover off and serve immediately. If it simmers too long it will lose its bright green color.

 

 

 

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Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet

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