It’s a start.

Last week, on my way home from work, I wanted a beautiful spring-green soup, light, fresh-tasting, maybe still warm, a little creamy.  Probably with peas.

I wanted it to exist.  I wanted it available to me.  
And I figured it probably was available, somewhere in this city, on the menu at some little place with lovely white tablecloths and tea lights and quiet waiters who swished softly around the room, devoted to bringing me this green soup.
But practicalities stood in my way.  Armies of them.  I’d have to do research when I got home, which would already be around 6:30 anyway.  I was le tired.  I had already had my Meal Out for the week the night before (at Hopleaf, with Anna, O Dear Lord, Mussels) and wanted to conserve funds. And I really, really wanted to put this together myself – I wanted to explore and have control over what went into this soup and how it came out.  I’d never made any kind of summer-friendly soup before – my inaugural effort in the Nest Kitchen last summer was vichyssoise and I promptly decided I preferred it hot.
And, finally, I really like getting what I want.  And what I wanted was to taste a soup with peas and fennel.  So there.
I called a friend who recently claimed he didn’t get enough home-cooked food and asked how he felt about peas.  He said he felt fine about them.  I told him I was making a soup I had never made before, that I wasn’t using a recipe, and that I couldn’t make any promises.  He came over anyway, with two sharing-sized bottles of summer beer.  (My friends are generous both in their estimation of my culinary whims and in the supplementation/enabling thereof.  Bless.)
Beers were poured, and into a big pot I tossed:
  • A hunk of unsalted butter
  • A rather grand flourish of olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, also diced
  • salt & ground white pepper (yes, white. It’s milder than black pepper and does a nice job of keeping things perky without overwhelming the flavor.)
Over medium-high heat, I let this cook down and get a little golden brown/sticky, stirring a couple of times over the course of a 30-minute conversation about how to get community college students to care about a philosophy class.  The format of these 30 minutes, as you may suspect, can vary. I probably would have watched an episode of Arrested Development if I didn’t have company. Soup woulda turned out the same; apartment just would have been more silent, punctuated by the occasional semi-conscious giggle.  Anyway.
After the onions & fennel were fairly soft, I added:
  • about 2 cups of vegetable stock, and let it cook for another 15 minutes or so.  Then I turned off the heat and added…
  • about 1 1/2 bags of frozen peas.  Yes, I know it’s pea season and I coulda had fresh peas, but remember: le tired. Le don’t care. (Le super do NOT feel like shelling peas while trying to hang out and just have a simple beer with a friend.) So I stirred the peas around until I tasted a few and though they certainly weren’t hot (nor would I have wanted them to be), they had been thawed and pretty well warmed through.  Then it was time for The Bustup, so I needed…
  • a few cups of milk.  Depending on how thick or soupy you want this, you can vary the amount.  I think I put in about 3 cups, then hauled out the outboard motor and went to town.
Despite its relatively rustic texture and humble/impromptu beginnings, the soup turned out to be exactly what I had been after – sweet, certainly, but only mildly so, and with a complexity held together in no small part by the fennel.  The color was also quite pretty.  
Once we dug in, I tried to help my friend, who had never had fennel, identify it in the flavor of the soup.  I think I said something like, “Okay.  It’s like, pea, pea, pea, pea, a quiet knock of sweet-veg-earthiness, then a familiar creamy oniony base.  That knock in the middle is the fennel.” He found that helpful, but countered that he would have used one less “pea” in the description, which made me feel better, because, you see, it was quite pea-y.  Not like eating a bowl of hot peas (though, to my mind, that sounds rather lovely), but there was no mistaking that peas had been on my mind and that the soup was all about them.  
A little note:  An immersion blender – or at least my immersion blender (which is not state-of-the-art) – won’t nearly get you to anything resembling a puree.  If you spend a few minutes on it, you’ll bust up about half the peas/fennel (the onions will have cooked down into mere slips of tastiness by now), and the soup will be creamy but still have plenty of texture.
Another note:  After I added the stock, we also put together some little toasts for dipping.  Just a few slices of baguette, toasted with a little gruyere on top.  This is totally optional, obvi, but was quite nice.  The nutty cheese was a really good counterpoint to the mild, sweet soup.  My friend had also never had gruyere before, so it was, of course, quite important that he be exposed straightaway.
Overall, I think the soup was a very strong first go of things – I liked it, my friend liked it, and I like the idea of peas and fennel working together to please me. I think, though, that I want to try to perfect this – the flavor was so lovely and gently sweet, and totally satisfying for a summer dinner.  Next time, I’ll probably use more fennel and try to get a better puree on the soup.  Like, if someone just gifts me with a VitaPrep or something between now and then.  Not sayin’, just… sayin’.


  1. Jen & I took her mom, who was visiting, to Farm Fresh on Devon and bought some frozen peas while we were there. We didn't realize they were pigeon peas, which were more like lentils crossed with Brussels sprouts than peas. They are protein-packed and worked well in the curry noodle casserole we experimented with. I wonder how those might work in a pea soup?

  2. Jeanelle, this is brilliant! Your writing is magic…I hope that writing is your career. I want to read everything you've ever written and make every recipe you dream up and post. You have a fan! Promise to always keep me in the loop.
    Linda Madura

  3. Dearest gra,
    Have you ever made your soups creamy with the addition of sour cream instead of milk? I just saw a woman do this on the food network (no, not sandra lee or rachel ray) and was wondering if you had any insight. As a lactard, I am constantly trying to sub out dairy products for non-dairy options and recently have discovered Tofutti brand sour cream. Lactaid milk has an oddly sweet flavor, so while it is a great stand in for cereal and cookies, I worry it may be an unpleasant addition to a soup such as this. any thoughts?

  4. nate: i think those pigeon peas sound fantastic for a soup! especially for fall days when you want something a bit heartier – you could most certainly sub in the pigeon peas here, still use the fennel, and then maybe use more savory spices for a different flavor. (also, long live Devon Ave!)

    linda: thanks!! this blog is the main repository of my writing, so just keep your eye on it for new posts. so glad you enjoy it!

    cort: i have NOT done this and am now sort of ashamed to be so ignorant! sour cream sounds perfect, especially if one does not necessarily want to add more volume to the soup; just creaminess. another idea could be plain greek yogurt – richer, i think, than sour cream, and with a cleaner tang. (not sure if the Tofutti folks make soy greek yogurt though. hmmm.) miss you much, lady – you need to come back out to the chi cook with me!

  5. Janelle…
    Not enjoy…LOVE! More people should be reading this!

  6. I think I'm going to try making this next week. I loved the color of yours and it sounds like just the right level of cooking I can handle.

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