Sunday, August 03, 2008

In the Bag: Creamy Pea and Chicken Soup

This is supposed to be an entry to this month’s “In the Bag” competition over at A Slice of Cherry Pie. If it’s too late to make the roundup, then it’s just a post of a yummy soup.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have an interesting summer phenomenon. We call it “Fall.” You see, summer kind of comes and goes. One day will be beastly hot and send us all scurrying for the swimming pool and thinking about what kind of salad to have for dinner. The next day we’ll need windbreakers in the morning, and there will be enough breeze all day long to make you feel like a little soup for lunch might be a good thing. At first this sort of annoyed me; come on, I though, pick a season. But now I rather like it. When I lived back east, in an area known for five months in a row of weather forecasts that consisted of, “Hazy, hot and humid, with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms,” we’d get to early August and I’d start thinking, “An overcast drizzly cool day would be a pretty welcome break right about now…” but it seldom happened. Now it happens all the time.

And so, because of this phenomenon, I created this soup using some springy/summery vegetables, but with a little weight in the form of the chicken to warm you and stay with you a bit. I bought the peas, but I had a yellow squash that came in my Community Sponsored Agriculture box. It was perfectly fine, but had some appearance issues. It wasn’t really pretty enough to just eat steamed or sautéed, but there was nothing wrong with it, so I added it to this soup. You could just add another half cup or so of peas if you didn’t have the squash, or you could use zucchini or another summer squash in its place.

In keeping with the In the Bag ingredients for this month, I added some grated parmesan at the end for flavor and a little saltiness. Be sure you taste the soup after adding the parmesan, but before adding any additional salt. Depending on your palate, you may find the parmesan (and the pancetta used at the beginning) make it salty enough.

This soup is going to be my lunch for the next few days, along with a slice of toasted bread with radish butter (a stick of butter with a half dozen radishes that have been diced up fine mashed into it). If you have an unseasonably cool summer day, you might give this a try. It would also be fine with frozen peas as an early Spring luncheon or starter to an early Spring dinner. It’s a lovely shade of pale green flecked with the darker green tarragon, and has the flavor of the peas and the chicken, but with a hint of licorice from the tarragon.

Creamy Pea and Chicken Soup
makes 6 servings

1 teaspoon olive oil
4 slices pancetta
1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium yellow squash, cubed (optional, or you could use zucchini, or just another handful or two of shelled peas)
1 ½ - 2 cups shelled fresh peas
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup grated parmesan, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper

In a Dutch oven or large sauce pan over medium high heat crisp the pancetta in a teaspoon of olive oil. Remove from pan and reserve. Add cubed chicken and brown, about 7 minutes. Remove chicken from pan with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium, add onion to pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add peas and squash and cook until soft, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Remove pan from heat and puree peas, squash, onion with a handheld immersion blender, or in a stand blender (take care when pureeing hot liquids in a blender; remove the center venting piece from the blender, but hold a dishcloth over the opening to avoid having the hot liquid spray everywhere, making a huge mess and potentially burning you and anyone in the vicinity). The soup can be as chunky or as smooth as you like. I left some very small pieces of vegetable in mine to give it a little heft.

Return the pureed soup to the heat and add the reserved chicken. Bring the liquid to a bare simmer and let cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 more minutes.

Add ½ cup cream, ½ cup grated parmesan, and 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon. Stir to distribute through the liquid. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, and scatter with reserved pancetta, chopped, and a scattering of grated parmesan.


Kristen said...

That looks like the perfect recipe for Fall. Fall is one of my favorite seasons, except for the fact that it leads to winter, which I detest!

TD said...

I kind of like winter for about a month, and really only if it snows at least once during that time. After about a month, I'm ready for some sunshine, longer days, and a little warmth, thanks. Doesn't happen though. *sigh*