The Cowgirl Chef: Spring in a bowl

Posted Wednesday, May. 07, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Spring pea soup with bacon

Serves 2

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 tablespoon chopped yellow onion

• 1 pound fresh (or frozen) peas

• Sea salt

• 1/2 cup whipping cream

• About 6 small fresh mint leaves

• 2 strips bacon, cooked till crispy

• A few curls of fresh Parmesan

1. Heat olive oil and onion in a saucepan on medium-high. Cook until the onion softens, then add peas, 1 1/2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Leave this uncovered and allow to come to a rolling simmer — the peas will cook in about 3 minutes. To test doneness, try one — there should be a “pop” of the skin when you bite into it.

2. Drain the peas and put them immediately in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Then put them in a blender. Add 1/2 cup of water, cream and fresh mint and blend. Taste for seasonings. Serve right away, rewarm or put in the fridge for a couple of hours for a cold soup. Garnish with bacon and Parmesan.

Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx

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Tomato-barley soup

Serves 4

• 2 pounds or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 shallot, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

• 1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained

• 1 quart vegetable stock

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 teaspoon sea salt

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

• 1/2 teaspoon cumin

• 1 cup quick-cooking barley

• Oven-dried cherry tomatoes, for garnish (see note)

• Crumbled feta, for garnish

• Pita or flatbread, for serving

1. If using whole tomatoes, score the ends by lightly making an X with your knife. Put a pot of water onto boil, then gently add tomatoes, cook for 30 seconds and remove. Peel and discard the skins; squeeze the tomato juice into a bowl along with the flesh.

2. In a medium-size skillet, heat olive oil and chopped shallots on medium-high for about 5 minutes, or until the shallots begin to soften. Add tomatoes, their juices and everything up to the barley and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let cook for half an hour, then blend in batches in your blender and return to the heat.

3. Add barley to the pot, stir and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the barley is cooked. Serve with a few oven-dried cherry tomatoes, feta and flatbread or pita on the side.

Note: To make oven-dried cherry tomatoes, slice the little tomatoes in half, lay them out on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Cook in a 200-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx

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Lemony asparagus soup with ricotta

Serves 2

• 1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces

• 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• 1 tablespoon chopped shallot

• 2 cups vegetable stock

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 1/2 cup ricotta

• Sea salt and cracked pepper

• 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1. Put asparagus pieces in a steamer basket inserted in a deep saucepan with about 1 inch of water and turn the heat to high. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the asparagus is tender but not mushy. Drain the asparagus, then quickly put the pieces in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Reserve a few of the tips for garnish.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and shallot in a skillet for a few minutes, until the shallot softens. Put this in a blender.

3. Drain asparagus from the ice bath and add to the blender along with vegetable stock, lemon zest and ricotta. Blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add more stock or water. Taste for seasonings. Add salt and pepper as needed. If serving it warm, return to the stove; if serving it cool, put in the fridge for an hour or so.

4. To serve, pour the soup in a bowl and garnish with a few asparagus tops and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs.

Note: To make breadcrumbs, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil and bread pieces in a small skillet till they’re crispy, about 5 minutes. Taste as you go, adding salt and pepper as needed. Remove from skillet and put in a bowl to cool.

Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx

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Roasted carrot and coral lentil soup

Serves 4

• 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

• 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• Sea salt and pepper

• 2 tablespoons chopped onion

• 2 cups vegetable stock, plus more as needed

• 1 cup coral lentils

• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment.

2. Toss carrots with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and pepper and roast for about 45 minutes, or until they’re browned on all sides. Note: This can be done in advance.

3. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil and onion in a saucepan over medium-high for about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Then put in a blender along with the carrots and 2 cups vegetable stock. Blend, then return mixture to saucepan.

4. Add lentils and 2 to 4 cups of water or vegetable stock — the lentils will absorb all of the liquid, so be sure to give them enough. Add curry powder and let simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils have cooked through.

Nutritional analysis per serving: xxx

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Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Last month while I was in Paris, spring soups were on bistro menus all over town. White asparagus. Fresh peas. Watercress. Nettles. All blended beautifully in a bowl, marking the arrival of the season.

Winter may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean we have to say goodbye to soups. Spring soups are lighter, easier and much quicker to put together than winter’s cook-for-hours-then-let-rest-for-a-day stews.

The truth is, I didn’t think much of soups in the springtime — or the summer, for that matter — until I moved to Paris, where there’s always a soup on the menu. Then I learned that spring soups are like salads in a bowl, because they’re often blended versions of what you might otherwise put on a plate and toss with a vinaigrette.

Like salads, soups are forgiving (whether you have 1 1/2 pounds or 1 3/4 pounds of tomatoes makes little difference in the end) and are a great way to use up bits of things in the fridge. Let those two last pieces of bacon be a garnish (see spring pea soup with bacon), or make breadcrumbs out of leftover bread and sprinkle on top (see lemony asparagus soup with ricotta). Or, in the most French-inspired of add-ons, poach an egg, place it in the middle of your soup bowl and call it dinner.

Soup’s on, y’all.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com, @cowgirlchef.

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