As a child, I always enjoyed the George and Martha books by James Marshall, which told stories about two lovable hippos and the meaning of friendship. In one installment, Martha takes delight in making — though not eating — pea soup, which she then serves to George — who doesn’t like pea soup either — thus, he pours it into his shoe in hopes that he won’t hurt her feelings.
I sympathized with George — familiar only with the heavy, army-green version rife with ham — until I came upon this very simple pureed recipe created by Jack Bishop. I’ve dressed up his version with a touch of lemon, a tangle of pea shoots, and some crispy pancetta bits. The flavor and color of the peas deliver a fresh and light soup, and because there are very few other ingredients, the peas truly take center stage.
If you can get your hands on fresh peas, it’s worth the time and energy to shell them, and the pods can also be used to flavor the broth. But if time doesn’t allow, use frozen peas, as I often do, and simply add in the pea shoots, which will increase the flavor. (Find pea shoots in the produce section among the sprouts and greens.) Without the pancetta garnish, this recipe is vegan. Spare your shoes from that mushy old pea soup and give this recipe a whirl — I’m sure even George would love it!
Pureed Pea Soup with Pancetta
serves 4 to 6
3 ounces Pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1/2 celery stalk, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for finishing
4 1/2 cups water
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
2 1/4 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
1 1/2 cups pea shoots
1 tablespoon lemon zest
pepper to taste
chives for garnish (optional)
parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
Heat the oven to 375º Fahrenheit. On a lined baking sheet, spread out the diced pancetta. Bake until the bits are golden and crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add in the onion, carrot, celery, and 1 cup of pea shoots. Sprinkle the vegetables with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and sauté for until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the water, lemon zest, thyme, cilantro, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. If using fresh shelled peas, add the pods to the broth now. When liquid comes to a boil, remove the pods.
Lower the heat, add peas, and simmer for 4 minutes, until peas become tender. Remove bay leaves then, then, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. If using a food processor or blender, puree the soup in batches. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with remaining pea shoots, fresh chive stalks, and liberal handfuls of pancetta. Parmesan cheese can be sprinkled or shaved on top as well, though I prefer to serve it on the side.