give peas a chance

One of my fondest school days memories is a grade four geography project. Our teacher put us in teams and gave each team a country to research and report on. At the end of the unit, we put on a cultural fair for our parents and other classrooms. Each team hosted one of the booths set up around the perimeter of the classroom.

What country did I get assigned to? France. Trying to ignore pangs of jealousy for the kids on the African, Asian, and South American teams, we began to brainstorm. One thing on the list was which French food we would provide samples of. My vote for fries was quickly bulldozed by the safety issues of a deep fryer in an elementary classroom.

pea soup

The next best thing? Pea soup. As if France wasn’t bad enough. Now nobody would come to our booth. (This was before I’d learned of the wonders of Boeuf Bourguignon and Julia Child).

I was a naive child. In the end, I was proud of us, decked out in berets. I was also proud of the booth we ran, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloth and café atmosphere.



But oh, the soup. I can’t remember whose mom made it, but it was silky-smooth and a bright crayon-green. Sweet, with a gulp of robust legumes. Fresher than chili but more satisfying than your average, pedestrian vegetable soup. Parents were passing up chow mein and strudel for our soup.


I don’t know why, but I didn’t eat pea soup again until a few months ago at a friend’s house. It was one of those simple suppers—one I’d never think of making. And then I bought a cookbook that convinced me to try it for myself. With one success down, I decided to go for it. After all, the first day of spring passed on Friday with nary an offering from me—how could I be so ignorant? A new season, one of my favorite things, and a warmer, friendlier one at that.

To you spring, I offer this bowl of pea parmesan: surpassing my expectations with its richness, the heartiness of a passing winter and the freshness of new green.

bracelet2*bracelet by Rachel Sudlow

Pea Parmesan

makes 10 cups


8 cups shelled fresh green peas, or frozen green peas (buy good ones, not generic)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
6 T unsalted butter (I cut this down a bit)
1 large Spanish onion
2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped (dirt will get stuck between the layers, so peel them away and wash)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
6 cups vegetable stock
1 (3-inch) piece Parmesan cheese rind (or other hard cheese rind). This is an Italian soup secret I’ve been waiting to try, and which drew me to try this soup. It really works!
2 cups milk
5 T all-purpose flour
¼ tsp ground white pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 tsp minced fresh garlic (I used a bit more)


  1. If using fresh peas, blanch them in rapidly boiling water for 2 minutes to preserve their green color. For frozen, simply defrost. Puree 6 cups of the peas with the sugar and 1 tsp of the salt until smooth. Set the puree and remaining whole peas aside.
  2. Melt 2 T of the butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, and carrots and sweat for 4 minutes.
  3. Add the thyme and bay leaves and stir to coat.
  4. Add the stock and Parmesan rind and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 20  minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, to make the white sauce, scald the milk by heating it in a small saucepan just until bubbles appear around the edges.
  6. In a separate pan, melt the rest of the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook until a thick, pale roux forms, stirring constantly with a whisk.
  7. Gradually add the scalded milk, stirring constantly. Simmer until the sauce thickens considerably.
  8. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of salt, the white pepper, and the nutmeg and set aside.
  9. Stir the whole peas and the pureed peas, the white sauce, the grated Parmesan, and the fresh garlic into the pot. Simmer for 1 minute.
  10. To serve, remove the bay leaves and cheese rinds and ladle the soup into bowls.

courtesy of The Daily Soup Cookbook, by Leslie Kaul and Bob Spiegel

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