What better on a bright and blustery spring day than a big bowl of soup filled with the promise of summer. Pea soup is a perfect all-rounder; being both perfect in winter when made with hearty dried split peas, and ideal in the warmer months when made with the delicate, freshly-podded baby variety. This recipe is somewhere in between, using the good old frozen pea for sweetness and colour, and combining it with white beans for texture and substance.
I've given it thesomewhat fancy French title, as opposed to good old 'pea and ham', as a homage to the Rive Gauche arrondissement where the Ewing and I recently spent a few days on honeymoon. While I can't claim to have eaten any while we were there (too busy with the steak,wine and macarons) it proved to be just what we needed to cheer us up on our return. Quick, healthy and filling, the perfect comfort food.
Legend has it the soup is is named after the Count of Saint Germain, who was minister of Louis XVI. Apparently it was a favourite dish, to which he often added plenty of fresh sage for longevity.I decided to swap the sage in favour of a sprig of thyme, although its a pretty flexible recipe so add which ever herbs and seasonings take your fancy (I like to add a few toasted, ground cumin seeds, along with the onions, for a spicier version). The beans are a little twist I thought up when I realised that I didn't have any potatoes to help give the soup some body. Any white beans would work well, or you could use a couple of peeled and diced potatoes instead (simmer in the stock until soft before adding the peas). If the weather's hot, and you're craving something light and refreshing, ditch the beans/potatoes all together, swap the thyme for mint, up the pea quota and serve hot or chilled with some creme fraiche and chives.
Pea and ham make the perfect salty/sweet bedfellows. If you don't have time, don't want to make ham stock, or are a a vegetarian, then use a good chicken/vegetable stock instead. You can always garnish with some crispy bacon/lardons or a few shavings of Parmesan for some extra umami richness and flavour.
Saint-Germain au jambon fumé
For the stock:
1 smoked ham hock/piece of gammon
2 stick of celery
8 black peppercorns
for the soup:
1 onion, finely chopped
1.5 litres of ham stock (or other stock, see above)
400g frozen peas
1 tin of white beans (cannelini, haricot, butter etc.) drained and rinse.
1 sprig of thyme
Fresh black pepper
To make the stock - place the hock in a large pan, cover the with cold water and add the roughly chopped veg (you can leave the skins on) and whole peppercorns.
Bring to a boil, skim off the scum, and simmer for about two hours, topping up the liquid if necessary.
When the stock is ready allow to cool a little then remove the hock and shred the meat.
Strain the stock into a clean container and either use straight away or leave t cool and store in the fridge/freezer until needed.
To make the soup - sweat the onions in a pot in a little olive oil until soft.
Add the stock, peas, tinned beans, thyme and pepper and simmer gently for about 15/20 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then blend to the desired consistency.
Serve the soup with some of the shredded ham, grated Parmesan or a swirl of creme fraiche and fresh chives.