After a semester of grading, more grading and endless office hours, only one more 8 a.m. class stands between me and freedom (or, as I refer to it in my mind, time to write my dissertation). An even more comforting thought is that this is probably the last time I’ll ever teach this course–especially at 8 a.m. (yes, I know I’ve said these words before, but this time it’s absolutely true; there is no turning back now). Truth be told, I’ve really needed these comforting thoughts over the past few days. It was hard to return to the grind after Thanksgiving holiday even though a thick stack of revisions had been beckoning to me all break long; also, it was sad to see all of our visitors, from the Greek’s parents to our Greek friend by way of Texas (he’s really a Texan at heart, I’ve decided), go.
It was a little strange on Monday night that, for the first time in roughly three weeks, it was just me, Elektra and the Greek. We almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves without the bustle and conversation of guests. But after various trips to San Francisco, where we went to the Mission and to Alamo Square (Elektra had a field day running through the mud; her father was proud of her spirited hijinks, but her mother, who had to hold her in the car, infinitely less so) and so much delicious, albeit heavy, holiday-inspired food (by the way, in case you have any leftover turkey, it makes for a mean enchilada), it seemed only right that we should not only enjoy the silence, but also eat something light and vibrantly green.
For some reason, in the midst of so much fog, rain and days with too little sunlight, I turned to a spring recipe to spruce things up a bit, a Pea, Pesto and Arugula Soup from the whimsical Very Fond of Food by Sophie Dahl (granddaughter of dear Roald, author of so many of my chidhood favorites). I had found this book about a month and a half ago at the Telegraph staple, Moe’s Books, where I found myself after a particularly frustrating session of extended office hours. Browsing books always soothes me and I was especially excited to stumble upon this one. I liked the moody photography, the Scandinavian inspired recipes and immediately saw two recipes that I could see myself making again and again (this is my secret cookbook test: if I see several recipes that jump out at me, then I know that, with more time to peruse the book, I’ll find even more): Ricotta tarts with Pecorino sauce and this pea soup.
I’ve always been a sucker for peas–it’s my love of sweet things–and, in recent years, I’ve really come to love the peppery, slightly bitter taste of arugula. But, given my need to mix and match recipes and seasons, I had to make a lot of changes to this soup. To be entirely fair, I suppose a lot of these changes were also based on what I had on hand; on Monday evening, there was no way I was going to go in search of zucchini or even basil, which the pesto required. I opted instead for a dill parsley pesto, which worked really nicely (peas and dill have always been a winning combination, or at least that’s what time in Russia taught me). Since Thanksgiving also cleaned us out of yellow onions, I used one of the leeks that didn’t make it onto the Thanksgiving menu. In short, this was minimalist cooking at its finest: sauteed leeks meet chicken broth, frozen peas and arugula go into the pot and, after allowing the vegetables to soften for about 5 minutes, the soup is pureed in a blender. The pesto can be made while the leeks are softening. And, voila, dinner is served.
I found that this was just the thing for a post-Thanksgiving detox. It was fresh, light and hit all the right flavor notes, especially once the mildly sweet, mildly bitter soup is topped with a dollop of garlicky and aromatic pesto. Truly, based on taste alone, had the sun been shining, I might have believed it was spring.
P.S. I was also more than a little excited to break in my new, yet very old soup tureen.
Pea and Arugula Soup with Dill-Parsley Pesto
Yields about 4-5 servings
Heavily adapted from Very Fond of Food
After making this, I started to think that it might be nice to throw a baby carrot or two into the food processor with the pesto since it might make for a nice splash of color against the very green soup. Also, since I already broke pesto tradition by using dill and parsley instead of basil, the Greek suggested that I break it even more by using Feta instead of Parmessan. I often find that soup is very forgiving of modifications and I doubt you can go wrong.
As an additional note, I happily ate two piping hot bowls of this soup; the Greek, however, who finished it off last night, ate his second helping cold. I don’t know that I’d recommend this right now, but perhaps we should all keep this option in mind for summer? Gazpacho could use the competition and fresh peas just might be the thing to rival fresh tomatoes.
For the pesto:
a large handful of fresh parsley
4-5 sprigs of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon pine nuts
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
-Remove the dill and parsley leaves from their stalks and place them in a food processor with the garlic, pine nuts and olive oil.
-Pulse until the mixture turns into a paste.
-Add the cheese and pulse until incorporated.
-Add a pinch of salt and pepper and then taste. Adjust seasoning. Also, if the texture seems to thick, add an addition tablespoon of olive oil and pulse to combine.
-Set aside until soup is ready.
For the soup:
1 leek, pale green and white parts only
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
5 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock (or 4 cups stock plus 1 cup water)
1 package frozen peas
1 large handful of arugula, stems removed
-Trim the leek and cut in half, washing it carefully (if necessary, submerge it in cold water to remove any dirt that made be hiding between its layers).
-Once clean, cut the leek into 1/4-inch strips.
-Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot and add the leek.
-Cook on medium heat until the leek softens and becomes tender, about 5-7 minutes.
-Add stock and bring to a boil.
-Once boiling, add the frozen peas and large handful of arugula and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
-Turn off heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes before adding the soup to a blender to puree (I did three rounds of pureeing).
-Puree until smooth and then season to taste.
-Top with a dollop of pesto, swirl it into the soup and enjoy.