Potage St. Germain

(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
May 13, 2009

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Serves 4

Peas aren't the first vegetable to poke through New England soil in spring, but when they do, they're eagerly embraced. By June, strawberries are ripening in the fields and peas delicately shoot their way skyward, twisting and curling around anything vertical. Gardeners use sticks or lattices to support them. One of the classic French preparations is the combination of fresh peas, soft lettuce, and onions to make potage St. Germain, a striking bowl of green soup, perhaps named for a count in the court of Louis XV. Sometimes the soup is thickened with flour, other cooks enrich the soup with cream. This one is thick with freshly shelled peas - the main ingredient - so you don't really need either thickener. If you want a creamy bowl, add 2 tablespoons cream. Ideally, the peas should go from pod to pot. Prepare this soup with frozen peas until the fresh are available, but when you make the switch, you'll see that the fresh version is memorable.

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 Boston lettuce, cored and coarsely chopped
Pinch of sugar
3 cups fresh shelled peas or frozen peas
1 quart chicken stock, plus more, to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon freshly snipped chives

1. In a soup pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes without browning.

2. Stir in the lettuce and sugar. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the lettuce wilts. Add the peas, broth, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the peas are tender. It's OK if they start to fall apart.

3. Remove the pot from the heat. In a blender, puree the soup a little at a time. Return it to the pot. Add more chicken stock, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the soup is the consistency you like.

4. Reheat just until boiling. Add cream, if using. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Ladle into bowls and garnish with mint and chives.

Julie Riven