Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Split Pea Soup with Greens

The CSA program with Walnut Creek Organic Farms is off to a great start. Last week we received strawberries, potatoes, onions, carrots, mixed lettuces, spinach, chard, mustard greens, and greenhouse tomatoes. Since this is special produce, locally grown and hand delivered to the farmers’ market just a couple of blocks from home by farmers I’ve actually met, I’m determined to make good use of every bit of it. Last Friday’s dinner was linguine with spinach, chard, garlic, tomatoes, Aleppo pepper, olive oil, and parmagiana and pecorino and a salad with those amazing carrots and tomatoes. Saturday’s dinner was grilled chicken artichoke sausages with creamy polenta with gouda served with sautéed greens and tomatoes. Dessert was shortcakes with fresh whipped cream, luscious strawberries, and a few loquats from my own tree. (More on loquats in the near future.) To use the remaining greens, from last week’s share, I decided on a pureed soup. Split pea soup with spinach and mustard greens was paired with gouda toasts. Here’s the very easy recipe:

3 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling if desired
1 onion, chopped (I used a white onion, and it produced about 1 1/2 c chopped.)
1 t Aleppo pepper (I have a tin from Dean and Deluca and I’m using it in everything lately.)
1 1/2 c dried green split peas
6 c chicken broth (I had chicken broth on hand, but a vegetarian version of this soup would be equally delicious.)
7-8 c greens of your choice, loosely packed, washed, and roughly chopped or torn
Salt and black pepper to taste

To speed up the cooking process, I used a trick I learned from Ina Garten: In a heat-proof bowl, pour enough boiling water to cover by two inches over dried split peas. Let sit 15 minutes or longer while prepping the other ingredients and drain. Heat olive oil over medium high flame in a five quart pot or larger, and add Aleppo pepper, chopped onion, and a teaspoon of salt. Saute until onion is translucent. Add split peas and broth and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. If you choose to forego the speeding up process mentioned above, the simmer time is at least an hour. When the split peas have transformed themselves into tender little, fully cooked, wonders, add the greens and season with salt and black pepper. Stir the greens into the soup and let simmer another five minutes. Transfer soup to a blender pitcher and puree in small batches. Pureed soup should be transferred back to a separate, clean pot, reheated, and checked for seasoning.

This is the point in recipes at which the cook is cautioned about the dangers of pureeing a hot liquid in a blender. Even with small batches, the steam rises as soon as the blender is turned on, the lid will fly off, and your soup will explode all over your kitchen. You need to hold down the lid with a towel, and quickly pulse the blender on and off until the steam has dissipated. One way to avoid this issue entirely is to let the soup cool a bit before pureeing. After many years of soup making and many recipes requiring this step, I had always managed to avoid any soup explosions from my blender—until last night. Maybe I was in too much of a hurry, maybe I put a little too much in the blender, or maybe I had developed a false sense of confidence in my pureeing of hot liquids skills. The first batch indeed exploded, hot liquid blew forth from the blender pitcher, scalding my forearm and chin, and left the countertop and floor covered with chunky split pea soup. A few dirty towels later, the soup was finished, seasoning was corrected while it re-heated, and all was well.

Kurt made some comment about ‘where’s the pork belly,’ but he was actually very happy with this near-vegetarian soup. Each serving was topped with homegrown parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. This simple combination of a few ingredients was very satisfying.


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