Monday, February 25, 2008

Visualize Whirled Peas

Pea soup often gets a bad rap—it’s a literary description of sooty fog, for goodness sake. It’s definitely not beautiful, but what it lacks in good looks it makes up for in flavor. The earthy sweetness of dried split peas is only enhanced by nearly anything you throw its way. Bacon? Sure. Pancetta? Bring it on. Onions, carrots, celery? Why not? Curry powder? If that’s your kind of thing. Lemon zest? Absolutely! Plain yogurt would be excellent, as would thyme and/or parsley.

My soup is a version of the one Heidi recently published on Her food always looks spectacular and so healthy. I had a few extra slices of pancetta in the fridge, so I threw them in for good measure. A dash of smoked paprika added the deeper flavor level that bacon or smoked ham hocks would provide, and the lemon zest at the end totally made the dish. I worried that not using chicken broth would be bland, but it definitely was not. A dollop of crème fraiche and I’m starting to wonder if sooty fog is all that bad.

Perfect Pea Soup

serves 4

2 thin slices pancetta
1 medium onion, diced finely
1/2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
2 cups split peas, rinsed and picked over
5 cups water
Zest of 1 lemon
Garnish: crème fraiche or sour cream

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Chop pancetta as finely as possible, and add to pot. Cook, stirring, until some fat has rendered into the pan, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and stir. If pot looks dry, add a bit of olive oil or even water to moisten. Add 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika. Cook pancetta and onion, stirring often, until pancetta is lightly browned and lightly crisp and onions are soft and golden, about 5 minutes.

Add peas and stir to combine. Add water, cover pot, and raise heat to high. When mixture comes to a boil, turn heat down to medium-low and simmer, covered, about 35 minutes, or until peas are tender. About 15 minutes into cook time, add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Check on soup regularly and add water a bit at a time if it doesn’t look soupy enough.

When peas are tender, puree with a handheld mixer until slightly smooth, leaving some texture. Alternatively, puree about half of soup in blender and return to pot. If you find the soup too thick, add water in small increments until you like the texture. Ladle soup into 4 bowls and top each with a bit of lemon zest and a sprinkle of the remaining smoked paprika. Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, if desired.

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