Thursday, June 28, 2007

Minted Fresh Pea Soup with Asiago Hazelnut Biscotti

I went to see Bobby Flay perform this spring. Now, I'm not really one for the grandstanding celebrity chefs (preferring instead the ones who make me feel like I've just been invited to dinner - Giada DiLaurentiis, Ina Garten, and Nigella Lawson, for example) but Bobby Flay was coming to Niagara Falls and I could get tickets. The presentation was fun to watch and I had a great time giggling in the audience while elbowing my friend Paul on one side and my mother on the other side.

I didn't walk away with a whole lot though. It was really more about the show than the cooking, which is fine, but I was there for the cooking. The one thing I walked away with was the inspiration provided by a pea sauce that Flay made for lamb chops.

This soup is made from frozen peas. In the middle of pea season. Sounds silly, I know, but frozen peas are just easier to work with. The flavor is no less spring-like because the peas came from a bag, in fact, I can be sure that they were picked and frozen during the peak of the pea season, yielding the sweetest peas available. In addition, you won't have to spend hours shelling peas to get enough to make this soup and they are available year-round for your pea soup pleasure.

Bobby Flay went for a basil flavor in the soup, but I decided to nod toward the English with a minted pea soup. This is truly one of the most refreshing soups I have had. It is great both cold and hot. Drizzled with buttermilk, it is downright gorgeous, looking and smelling like the essence of Spring.

I really appreciate pureed vegetable soups for their intensity of flavor, but sometimes I crave another texture in there to mix things up a bit. For this, I created a savory biscotti. Biscotti are dunking cookies, which is perfect for a soup buddy. This one has a fairly mild cheesy flavor with hazelnuts, which are a soft nutty compliment to the green flavors of pea and mint.

Minted Fresh Pea Soup with Asiago Hazelnut Biscotti

1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped leek
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 lb frozen peas*
2 Tablespoons mint leaves
1/2 cup buttermilk

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the leek. Cook until limp but not browned. Add vegetable broth, water, and peas. Bring to a soft boil and cook about 5 minutes or until the peas are heated through. Add the mint and buttermilk. Add liquid if necessary to reach the desired consistency

Puree in a blender until very smooth. If you would like a perfectly smooth soup, run it through a medium seive. I prefer mine with the occasional chunk.

(serves 6-8)

1 cup grated asiago cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, beat cheese and butter until the butter is lightened. Add eggs, incorporate completely and stir in hazelnuts.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add this mixture to the butter mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine completely. It may be necessary to use your hands to fully incorporate the flour.

Split the dough in half. Form each half into a log that measures about 5 inches wide. Place onto cookie sheets lined with parchment.

Bake 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Using a serrated knife and a very gentle sawing motion, cut the logs on a diagonal into 3/4 inch slices. Return these slices to the cookie sheet and bake an additional 20 minutes. These may be baked more or less depending on the desired crispness.

(makes 16)

*If you can get them and are willing to shell them, fresh peas will work beautifully as well.

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