Saturday, November 08, 2008

Poiselle

Whenever I think of piselli (poiselle in dlalect) or peas, I'm always reminded of a prof at University who told a story about one of his summer jobs at a large frozen veg producer working on a line processing frozen peas. Peas are light enough to be transported through the process on a bed of air. Until the line has a problem and you are wading knee deep in the vegetable world equivalent of little green marbles.

Commercially frozen veg, peas especially, are processed so quickly after harvest nowadays that they are of really good quality. Spring peas, like everything else, are at their best when fresh but since we have so many and they are easy to freeze, that's what I do. And I use most of my stash this way, adding them to stews or soups. This is not a quick soup (it takes half the day) but can also be made, as convenient, over two days. Starting quite early in the morning, it will be wonderful by teatime.

Like this:

Go to your local butcher and get a smoked ham hock (bone in). Place it in a saucepan (6L), cover it with water and cover the pot. No salt required, there should be plenty in the ham. Proceed to cook the tar out of the ham, or at least until it is springy to the touch. This could take a few hours, mine usually takes almost 4. Once boiling, I reduce the flame to a low simmer and add a few celery stalks, a couple of quartered carrots, a halved onion, a few cloves of garlic, a small bunch of parsley, a bay leaf or two and some black peppercorns. Don't fuss about these veg, just rinse them, chop to fit and add them to the pot. They get strained out anyhow.

This stock is also very good for pumpkin or squash soups too. Almost anywhere you'd add pancetta or bacon to the soffritto, you can use ham broth alone or along with chicken for a milder flavour.

Once the stock is ready (that is, the ham hock is tender enough that the meat will easily peel away but not yet disintegrating), drain it and set the strained broth in the fridge for about an hour or so (or overnight). After cooling, skim off any fat that separates. This step is only necessary if you care to remove the fat. There usually isn't heaps but as I like to serve the soup with a drizzle of olive oil, I generally remove it.

Place the stock back in the rinsed saucepan, reserving about 2 cups.

Chop or shred the ham meat and set aside. You can do this while the peas are cooking.

Place 3 cups of frozen peas in the broth and allow to cook until quite mushy. Once peas are cooked, purée them with an immersion (or stick) blender. It will still be quite liquid so watch out for hot splatters.

In another small saucepan, sauté a finley diced shallot or small onion in a little olive oil. When softened, add the 2 cups reserved stock and cubed carrot and potatoes. Cook until veg are tender. Remove all but half the potatoes and set aside. Continue cooking remaining potatoes until stock is reduced considerably (keep a close watch not to burn) to the point where the stock darkens slightly to a light amber colour and becomes very thick and sirupy. Add a few tablespoons of white wine to deglaze and add all to the peas and purée again. Then add the cooked cubed veg and the chopped or shredded ham.

This two step cooking of veg and reducing some stock is time comsuming but makes a flavour base that is worth it. However, that's just my preference. After a taste, you can opt not to do this and add all veg to the pea mixture choosing either to blend the lot (or not). I like the consistency that one puréed potato adds to the soup and the contrasting chunky veg and ham.

Finally, reheat soup throughly, add some fresh ground black pepper and taste for salt/seasoning. A little salt might be added if you think its necessary. When serving, drizzle the soup with a little good olive oil and serve with thick cheesy toast.

Enjoy with a crisp Italian white, possibly a Chardonnay or even Pinot noir..

Mangia!

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