My dad came home from the hospital today. He’s in terrific spirits and already well on the mend, though there are lingering effects from the surgery. For one thing, his voice has been temporarily pushed into falsetto, making him sound a bit like Hyacinth Bucket; for another, he’s preferring soft-to-swallow foods, to save his poor cut-up throat some effort. I wanted to treat him to a nice light-but-special lunch when he came home; my farmer’s market trip yesterday yielded, among other things, a bag of English peas and a purple-tinged bunch of green garlic. So I made soup.
This is, more or less, early spring in a bowl. Fresh peas are at their sugary plump best now, with a crisp starchiness that frozen peas just can’t match. I’m lazy and buy my peas shelled–for a premium–but supposedly, shelling the peas is the kind of meditative kitchen task people wait all year for. As for the green garlic, it’s not an ingredient I often use, since it only appears at farmer’s markets and must be used quickly. It’s also sometimes hard to spot, since in its smallest and sweetest form it looks like a bulbous scallion. As it grows, the bulb becomes more pronounced, and the flavor intensifies. The garlic I bought was more or less fully grown, but not yet cured and concentrated the way our more familiar garlic is. Either way, it’s a great find for delicate dishes, with all the sweetness and roundness of older garlic and none of the spicy aggression.
I’m not usually one for minimalism and refinement in the kitchen. But today I wanted simple. Clean. Peas and green garlic at the front. I sauteed the garlic quickly in oil, then added peas, water, and a few featherweight flavorings–lemon juice, chili flakes, a mint sprig. The peas got cooked gently, just until they lost their last hint of chalkiness and became soft enough to puree. Then I stuck an immersion blender in the pot and whirred away, watching the soup get slowly thicker and minty-greener. A couple slices of bread, a tangerine for each of us, and voila–lunch in 20 minutes.
We had our soup in mugs, which I highly recommend. There’s a comfort factor to this soup–as airy as it is–that makes it perfect for sipping over a newspaper. It also stayed wonderful as it cooled to room temperature, which makes me think it would work just as well served cold. I suppose you could add a drizzle of cream or a swirl of yogurt, if you wanted, but I wouldn’t recommend it. With something this delicate, let the vegetables do the talking.
Pea and Green Garlic Soup (serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a main course)
Inspired by Nigella Express
1 medium stalk green garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of crushed red chili flakes
Salt to taste
12 oz (about 3 cups) shelled fresh English peas
3 cups water
1 medium sprig fresh mint
Juice of half a lemon (about 1 tbsp)
Trim the root end and the dry dark green end from the green garlic, leaving just the white and light green parts. Peel away the toughest outer layer and slice the stem. If your green garlic has a fully-formed bulb, cut it away from the stem, then peel and dice the cloves like regular garlic.
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add green garlic, chili flakes, and a pinch of salt, and sweat for 1-2 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Add peas, water, lemon juice, mint sprig, and salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the peas are soft but not mushy. Remove mint sprig and discard. Transfer the soup to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree until smooth.
The soup can be served warm or cold. Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving. The soup will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days.