People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
07/10/2009 Iced summer pea and fresh almond soup (Velouté glacée de petits pois aux amandes fraîches) Clay pot
For 4 small servings:
2-2 1/2 lbs. fresh sweet garden peas in the pod (about 2 c. shelled) 2 lbs. fresh green almonds* (or substitute 1 cup best-quality dry almonds, soaked in cold water in the refrigerator for 24 hours and peeled) 1 fresh onion ("bulb onion") about 1.5" diameter, halved and thinly sliced 1 T. unsalted butter 2-4 c. homemade chicken stock, flavored with about half of the empty peapods (see instructions below) Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper A bit of fresh snipped mint, optional garnish
*Fresh almonds are sweet and milky, and are considered a delicacy in the Mediterranean basin. They are sold in their velvety green husks in early to midsummer. Look for them in stores catering to North African customers. Or, order them from Earthy Delights.
If using dry almonds, put them to soak in cold water to cover at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours in advance. Keep them in the refrigerator. Just before using, peel off their brown skins (as you would after blanching).
If using fresh almonds, turn on some good music. Using a standard nutcracker, place each almond, narrow end up, lengthwise in the nutcracker and crack. (If you crack the nuts crosswise, they're tougher to get out.) Use the tip of a vegetable peeler knife to dislodge any stuck pieces of almond flesh. Peel off their beige or yellow skin and drop them in a small bowl of cold water as you work. When all are cracked, you should have around 1 cup. If you have more, that's a good thing. Place them in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Shell the peas, reserving about half the pods. Heat the chicken stock , dump in the pods, and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock.
Strain the almonds, reserving their milky soaking water if using fresh almonds. Reserve about 9 almond halves and set aside for garnish. Roughly chop the rest and patiently mash them to a fine paste in a mortar with a pinch of salt.
Please try to use a clay pot for making this delicate soup! So, gently heat the pot and melt the butter in it. Turn the heat to medium, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent but not colored. Add the peas and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add enough hot broth to barely cover the peas and cook gently, covered, until the peas are almost tender. Fish out about 2 T. of cooked peas and reserve for garnish. Add the almond paste, using the soaking water if you have it to rinse the mortar into the soup pot. (Use a bit of broth if you used dry almonds). Stir and simmer gently (without allowing to boil at all) for about 5 minutes until the peas are just tender.
Transfer the contents to a food processor and whir until smooth. Now, you can either pass the mixture through the fine grill of a food mill for a slightly textured soup, or, for a truly ethereal result, you can force it through a chinois, a large, sturdy, cone-shaped fine-mesh strainer with a matching conical pestle. If you choose this route, press until the residue is is dry as possible. Discard the residue.
Taste and correct the seasoning. Admire the incredible color of this soup, then put it away to chill in the refrigerator. Serve in your prettiest bowls with the reserved peas and almonds for garnish. You may add a tiny bit of snipped mint if you like, but be careful not to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the soup. (Personally, I prefer no mint).
Note: This soup embodies the very essence of the delicate produce of early summer. The subtle flavor of the almonds marries wonderful with the sweetness of the peas. The color is the most delicate green you've ever put on a plate. Truly a special soup to be served for an elegant first course.