Several days ago two young women, both seniors at Amherst College where my husband teaches, emailed that they had some free time the following week to come and cook with me in my kitchen. Stellar students as well as passionate foodies, they had, during their four years of taking rigorous courses at the college, often found extra hours to cook and, of course, to sample recipes with me. This would be the last time before graduation for us to be in the kitchen together, so I picked some special dishes, including a soup with spring peas, mint, and pancetta.
To prepare the dish we made a rich but quickly assembled broth and then added orecchiette (small ear-shaped pasta), fresh peas, snow peas, and chopped bibb lettuce to the simmering liquid. The brodo was garnished with crispy bits of pancetta, fresh mint, and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. From our first sips, we all adorned this soup with its spring accents. It is light in taste, yet totally satisfying, and it bursts with the verdant hues of the vegetables. Another bonus is that it takes only about 45 minutes to prepare. Best of all, here is a soup that both young and older cooks will find easy to make this spring.
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Brodo with Spring Peas, Mint, and Pancetta
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 pound finely diced pancetta
1 cup chopped leeks
8 cups Extra Quick Chicken Stock (recipe follows plus see cooking tip)
1 cup orechiette pasta
1 pound (3 cups) fresh peas or frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 pound (1 cup) snow peas, ends trimmed and peas halved on the diagonal
1 cup Bibb or Boston lettuce, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp finely julienned mint leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1. In a large, heavy pot set over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring, until the pieces are golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the leeks, and sauté, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat if the leeks begin to brown.
2. Add the stock and bring the soup to a simmer. Then add the pasta, and cook 8 minutes. Next, add the snow peas and fresh peas, and cook until both are just tender and the pasta is al dente, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chopped lettuce and cook 1 minute more. Season the soup with salt to taste.
3. Ladle the soup into 6 shallow soup bowls and garnish each serving with some mint and pancetta. Pass the Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Serves 6
Market note: Orecchiette, which in Italian translates as “little ears,” are available in many supermarkets. If you can’t find them, substitute small macaroni or small farfalle.
Extra Quick Chicken Stock
2 quarts (8 cups) reduced sodium chicken stock
2 ribs celery cut in 1-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch slices
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 /2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1. Place the stock, celery, carrots, onions, parsley and thyme sprigs in a large, heavy saucepan or pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, lower the heat, cover, and cook at a simmer 30 minutes.
2. Drain in a large sieve, pressing down on the vegetables and herbs to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve the stock. You should have 8 cups stock. If not, add extra water to make 8 cups. (Stock can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. It can also be frozen.)
Cooking Tip: If you are stressed for time and can’t make this quick stock, then use a good quality purchased stock, such as Swanson’s Chicken Stock, which works well in a pinch.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015