October 11, 2012

Pea Soup with Pancetta

Pea Soup with Pancetta in a Tea Cup (Woodland Spode)
This is some good, good soup.  It's delicious because a) you use pancetta, b) you cook pancetta, onion and carrots low and slow and c) you add petite green peas at the end and don't cook them much, so you get the complexity and home-y flavors of the bacon, onion and carrots and the brightness of tender petite green peas...  And there's cream.  Did I mention the cream?

Pea Soup with Pancetta
3 pieces pancetta, about as thick as regular bacon, chopped coarsely (about 3/4 cup)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth (I use 1/2 strength of 'better than boullion' brand)
1/4 cup white wine (I used Clean Slate 2011 Riesling from Germany)
1 lb. bag of frozen petite peas (yes, has to be 'petite,' they are younger and sweeter)
3/4 cup heavy cream
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Pancetta
Let's talk about pancetta for a second- first of all, good, good, stuff.  It's the Italian version of bacon and while it's extremely similar to bacon, it's not bacon.  The seasonings are similar, but, the pancetta is rolled into a tubular like shape and dry cured.  (Bacon as we know it, is partially cooked at low heat in an oven)  What is dry cured?  It means the meat is 'cured' or cooked, with salt over time.  Dry curing often involves compression, for example, prosciutto is made using a dry curing mixture and applying pressure to the fresh ham to achieve the desired shape.  When meats in the deli say 'uncured,' it drives me slightly crazy, because they don't mean salt curing wasn't involved, it was, it just means the method of finishing the meat involved cooking it (usually).  For more charcuterie musings, read my meat curing adventure at http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/charcuterie-class.html

Pancetta
So, when we say 3 pieces of pancetta, it will be 3 round pieces, as you can see from the picture.  Heat a nicely sized dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add your chopped pancetta.  You can add your oil after you brown it, it doesn't really need any cooking oil since it's fat content is quite high.  You want it to brown, but not at a fast rate and not unevenly, so stir it from time to time while you prepare your onion and carrots.  This soup is going to be pureed, so nothing has to be too pretty, but you want things to be relatively even sizes in order to cook well.

Pancetta, onion and carrots
Once your pancetta has nicely browned, go ahead and add your olive oil.  Let it heat up a little, and then add your onion and carrot.  This you also want to cook low and slow, and a little browning here and there is good.  There's not really a time guideline I can give you for this part of the soup, it's more visual cues.  When you have some nice browning, add your wine and allow it to cook down by about half- some thoughts on white wine here- it's more difficult in my opinion to cook with white wine than red wine, because white wine tends to be sweeter.  So you can make the mistake of adding too much white and ending up with too much sweetness.  That's why it might seem like a relatively small amount of wine.  But, what that wine is doing, is getting all our lovely browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  After your wine is reduced by about half, add the chicken stock.   Now, I like to use a brand of chicken stock called 'better than bouillon,' it's refrigerated and it is 1 tsp to each cup of water.  But, it always seems pretty strong and salty to me, so I use about half the recommended amount.  A note here- this made a relatively thick soup, so if you want it to be more liquid, use more chicken stock.  Once your chicken stock is heated, add your potato pieces, and simmer for about 10 minutes, you want your potatoes to be nice and soft.  Now, we add our peas.  Only simmer your peas for 8 minutes.

Pea Soup in an ice bath
While the soup is simmering, prepare an ice bath for your soup.  You want to a) cool it down to keep the peas as bright as possible and b) the faster it cools down, the sooner you can blend it, serve it and most importantly, eat it!  (We are cooling it down so that it doesn't make the top fly off your blender, which can happen when things are really hot.)  I like to make ice baths in mixing bowl sets, since they were designed to fit inside one another.  I put lots of ice cubes in the larger bowl and add some water, but not a lot.  So, once you've simmered your lovely peas for 8 minutes, place the soup in the smaller bowl and place it in the ice bath in the larger bowl.  Once it's cool enough, blend it in batches.  This soup, at least with the amount of chicken stock I used, gets somewhat smooth, but it's not a completely smooth puree.  Perhaps with longer, more vigorous blending it could be, but just to let you know, that's not what I achieved, it was more thick.  Once you've blended it, combine it with the heavy cream and season it to taste with salt and pepper.  Why haven't we added any salt before into the soup?  Because our pancetta is already a salty product and we want to have the option to make it saltier, as opposed to be having an problem with too much salt.

For fun, serve it in a tea cup and saucer with a demitasse spoon!  Or in a lovely soup bowl with my garlic bread:  http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/simple-and-delicious-garlic-bread.html

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