Today: A chilled soup that (finally) feels like soup -- thanks to a clever cooking technique and some seductive spring trimmings.
Cold soup is, more often than not, a compromise. Sure, it serves its purpose: dinner from the blender on a sticky day is better than a dinner you have to cook (or no dinner at all).
But inevitably, it's the desperate product of an 80 degree kitchen and a loss of motivation. And isn't it pretty much just a smoothie? (I bet you didn't want a smoothie for dinner. I bet what you'd really like is soup.)
This week's genius recipe -- a chilled pea soup from Chef Justin Burdett of Ruka's Table in North Carolina -- is a very good approximation of normal soup, but one fit for a steamy late spring. You barely have to cook a thing, but all of soup's best qualities -- the playful marriage of smooth and crisp; rich and bright -- are there. Let me explain.
The peas are blanched in salted water, then shocked -- also in salted (ice) water. The second dose of salt isn't part of standard blanching procedure, but here you're going to take some of the salty water your peas are chilling in and put it right in your soup.
"It’s already cold and seasoned," Burdett explained -- with salt, of course, and slightly with the taste of the peas. It's a little bit like making an instant, pre-chilled stock. "We do this with all the vegetables we blanch," Burdett said.
From there, you marinate your freshly blanched peas (and water) with some buttermilk, lemon zest, and loads of fresh herbs.
While they mingle, you'll chop up some garlic, melt it down in butter and cream, and blitz it into a miracle condiment.
You were supposed to pickle some ramp bulbs the night before, but I've done this last minute and stuck them in the freezer to cool down extra fast. It's fine!
Blend and strain the cold pea soup, then swirl together with the cream, Rorschach-style. Slice those ramps to scatter over the top.
It's the tug between a bright, weightless green soup, a swirl of straight decadence, and flickers of brine that make this real soup, beyond a doubt. One you'd happily eat in less desperate times, but one you're thankful for right now.
Adapted from Chef Justin Burdett of Ruka's Table in Highlands, North Carolina
Serves 4 as an appetizer
English Pea Soup:
4 quarts water, divided
1/2 cup kosher salt, divided
1 quart fresh English peas, blanched and shocked in salted water (reserving 1/2 of the salted shock water)
1 spring onion, chopped
3 to 4 basil leaves
3 to 4 mint leaves
2 to 3 sprigs of dill
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Black pepper, freshly ground to taste
Garlic Cream and Pickled Ramps:
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups heavy cream
Salt, to taste
1 quart Mason jar, filled with ramp bulbs (or substitute spring onions)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Photos by James Ransom