Soup For the Season

Somehow, I have been gone for a long time.

I meant to post more–I’ve been eating and cooking and experimenting just as much as at any other time. But I worked hard the week of Christmas–worked at my actual job, which is another story–and then collapsed into relaxation the week after. Writing was one of my many usual activities that simply didn’t take place.

Today, I finally have some breathing room. I’m not working so fast that my eyeballs are a blur, and I’m not so exhausted that those selfsame eyeballs won’t even open. Strangely enough, today’s lunch was the simplest thing I’ve made in almost a month. (That breakfast where I ate frozen fruit and cold cuts doesn’t count).

As some of you may know, Nigella Lawson is one of my favorite cookbook authors. I was given the original edition of How to Eat as a Christmas present years ago (thanks, Dusan!) and I poured over it like a novel. The voice was entrancing and the recipe were excellent. I still go through that cookbook every few months to see what treasures I might plumb. I only own one other of her cookbooks–Nigella Feasts–but I’ve checked her remaining three out of the library on numerous occasions, and made any number of the recipes therefrom.

Today was a lazy day. I might be finished with exhaustion, but I’m not done vegetating. I can’t recall a day in years when I stayed in my pajamas and bathrobe past nine in the morning, but today I was still lolling around on the sofa well past noon. When I looked up from my book and noticed the time–roughly concurrent with the moment that my previously silent stomach chose to howl like a banshee–I had to come up with something to eat quickly.

Thus, a recipe from Lawson’s latest cookbook, Nigella Express (which, as one might expect from the title, is a compendium of fast/easy recipes): Pesto-Pea Soup. The recipe has only five ingredients (if you count salt and water as ingredients), required less than 10 minutes to prepare, and was exceedingly tasty, which is exactly what I needed in my befuddled, unshod state. (I had to do a little math to reduce the quantity of resulting soup–I didn’t have 3 bags of frozen peas, merely half of one–but thankfully the elementary division wasn’t too difficult for my feeble brain).

I took half a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer and dumped them into a saucier, along with a whole scallion, washed, but unchopped. I added a cup and a half of hot water and a pinch of salt, then brought the whole thing to a boil and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. The recipe calls for letting it simmer for 7 minutes, but the peas seemed done in 5, and I since didn’t want to cook them to a grey ooze, I just stopped early.

I let the mixture cool a fractionally, discarded the scallion (odd, but I followed the recipe), poured the peas and liquid into my food processor, and then added the ingredient that turned prosaic peas into something snarfable: pesto.

Back in September, I bought a small container of lemon-basil pesto at the Madison farmer’s market, and I’ve had it in my freezer ever since, waiting for the perfect recipe. It must be admitted that I forgot it was even there, but last night I rediscovered the jar right next to the ground poppyseeds I needed for another recipe, and in my frantic, lunch-planning state, the memory of that pesto brought to mind Lawson’s recipe.

I scooped the bright green paste–fragrant even when frozen–out of the jar and into the food processor, there to mingle with the cooked peas. The heat of the water (and a bit of nudging with a spoon) melted the pesto immediately, and I pureed the whole thing together into a nubbly pottage. I poured the mixture back into the saucier, reheated it a bit, and then served it, with no accompaniment, in plain white bowls.

Unsurprisingly, the pesto is the key ingredient in this dish. The soup was heady with basil and the rising vapors wafted the scent of lemon. The cheeses and nuts in the pesto added depth and creaminess to the soup, without being aggressive with their individual flavors; the peas still shone through, not just as a textural component, but with the definite sweet, grassiness inherent to peas. In spite of the noticability of the peas, however, using a poor pesto would undoubtedly result in a poor soup. I was lucky to have such a delicious pesto on hand, but if I had to procure pesto for making the soup in the future, I would make sure to buy the best available.

(And yes, I would have to buy it. It is depressing to admit, but I have been trying to make pesto for YEARS, with the highest quality ingredients, often from my own garden, and it always turns out brackish and disgusting. So I buy good pesto from the farmers market, or, in the winter, the refrigerated case at the nearest earthy-crunchy grocery. It serves me well, and I usually don’t feel guilty).

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Published in: on January 4, 2008 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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