A Creamy Fresh Pea Soup for Lunch with Friends (Recipe Included!)

Several years ago at a small restaurant called Le Saint-Joseph, located on the outskirts of Paris, I savored a creamy celadon-hued soup of fresh peas garnished with diced feta and mini-croutons.  At home, I worked hard to reproduce the Parisian original, and was pleased with my close facsimile. This year, once again in Paris, but this time at Pétrelle, a new restaurant in the 9th, I discovered another silken smooth spring pea potage, but this one was garnished with toasted hazelnuts. Crazy about both, I decided to replace the croutons in my earlier version with hazelnuts. I loved the results and served the soup this past weekend at a lunch for out-of-town guests. When everyone took seconds, I knew this latest variation was the best! 

Sautéed leeks and tarragon make fine partners to the peas, which are simmered for a few minutes in chicken stock, and then pureed. Some half-and-half adds a smooth finishing touch. It is the simple garnishes, though, that distinguish this soup. I sliced a block of feta into fine dice and then toasted and crushed some hazelnuts. Then I spooned these ingredients along with a sprinkle of chopped tarragon atop each serving. These additions added color, a crunchy texture, and an herbal accent to the dish.

I served this soup with a club sandwich prepared with a whole loaf of ciabatta that was stuffed and sliced. However, you could easily make this delectable potage the anchor of  a light summer meal. Pair it with a  salad of tender green oak leaf lettuce and thinly sliced cucumbers and scallions tossed in a white wine vinaigrette plus a warm crusty baguette to round out the menu.

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Fresh Pea Soup with Diced Feta, Hazelnuts, and Tarragon

3 tbsp olive oil
3 cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
1 medium large potato (12 oz) such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1/2-inch dice 3 cups shelled fresh peas (See cooking tip.)
1 1/2 tbsp dried tarragon Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock plus extra if needed
1 1/2 cups half-and-half Garnishwa
6 to 8-oz piece of firm feta, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch dice to yield 1/2 cup (You will have some feta left over; save for another use.)
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed or coarsely chopped (See cooking tip.)
4 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

1. For the soup, heat oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add leeks and sauté, stirring until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. (Do not let them brown). Add potatoes, peas, dried tarragon, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Then add chicken stock. Bring mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Remove from heat, and puree mixture in a food processor or blender. Or, puree the mixture in the pot with an immersion blender. Return mixture to pot set over low heat and stir in half and half. Taste and season with more salt (depending on the stock used, you may need to add up to 3/4 teaspoon or more extra salt) and pepper. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead to this stage; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.)         

3. To serve, ladle soup into six bowls and garnish each serving with some diced feta, crushed hazelnuts, and chopped tarragon. Serves 6 Cooking tips: The Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in my New England town both stock bags of fresh-shelled peas. Although I love this soup prepared with these fresh peas, if unavailable, you can substitute 3 cups frozen peas, which have been defrosted, drained, and patted dry.  To toast hazelnuts, spread then on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350-degree F oven until lightly browned and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes or longer. Watch carefully. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2023

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