Spring is teasing us with warm sunny days speckled in between cold rainy stretches. We haven’t lived in this climate for years, so we need some warming up. It is time for a batch of Pea Soup with Fennel and Greens. Glowing with the bright color of spring, this is also one of our go-to soups when the weather turns chilly. Perfect for April in the Northeast.
We try to keep a few bags of frozen baby peas in the freezer specifically for this purpose, which is coming in handy now since, like most people, we are home-bound. The rest of the ingredients are also things we normally have on hand.
We also always have fennel seeds in our pantry, which when crushed add intense anise flavor to the soup. Crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle until worked into a fine powder.
We eat lots of salad and usually have some greens lurking in the fridge. This is a great way to use up salad greens that might be less than perfect for a salad, but still good for cooking. Many pea and lettuce soup recipes call for a mild butter lettuce, like Bibb or Boston lettuce. We prefer the flavor boost from peppery greens, like arugula or watercress. But really, any type of lettuce or salad green would work here.
Oh yeah, and there’s bacon! When the weather is cold, we enrich the soup with bacon for a more satisfying bowl of soup. The bacon is optional, and on warm days we might make a lighter version with olive oil replacing the bacon fat. This is truly a versatile recipe that can play a dual role: bright and fresh, yet warm and soothing.
Start by frying bacon in a dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon to drain on paper towels and set aside. Once cool, chop or crumble the bacon and save for later. Whatever doesn’t get eaten immediately will be sprinkled onto the finished soup.
Add onion and garlic to the bacon fat (or olive oil if not using bacon) in the pot and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the crushed fennel seeds, celery salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Dump in the frozen peas. Return the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook until the peas are soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in about 6 to 8 ounces of greens, and cook another 2 minutes—just long enough to wilt the greens.
Remove the soup from the heat and let it cool until it reaches a comfortable temperature for handling. In a blender, blend the soup in batches. As in many of our pureed soup recipes, we like to finish the soup by blending in plain white bread (crust removed and torn into pieces), which pulls everything together and gives it a silky texture. (This step is optional if you want to save on carbs.) You can add more water as needed to the blender to get the right consistency. We usually end up adding an additional 2 cups of water total over the course of three blender batches.
Recombine the soup batches back into the pot. Adjust the seasonings and warm through before serving. Garnish with the crumbled bacon.
(Note that this recipe makes a big batch of 8 servings, more if you are serving it as a starter. Scale down as needed.)
Pea Soup with Fennel and Greens
5 slices of bacon
1 medium onion, rough chopped
3 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed with mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups of chicken stock
3 15-ounce bags of frozen green peas
6 to 8 ounces of salad greens (arugula, watercress, etc)
2 slices of white bread, crust removed and torn into pieces
- Fry the bacon in a dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon to drain on paper towels and set aside. Once cool, chop or crumble the bacon and save for later.
- Keep the rendered bacon fat in the pot. Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened.
- Add crushed fennel seeds, celery salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper to pot, stir and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil.
- Add frozen peas. Return soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes until peas are soft.
- Stir in the greens and simmer for an additional 2 minutes until greens are wilted.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.
- Blend in batches, adding some torn bread into the blender with each batch. Add extra water as needed to blend properly to a smooth consistency (about 2 cups over 3 batches)
- Return the batches to the pot to combine them and adjust the seasonings. Heat gently and serve, garnished with the crumbled bacon.