What an interesting, fleeting time of year this is. Will it be hot or cold tomorrow, spring or summer? A bouquet of fading peonies captures this moment and inspired a recipe which pays homage to the time of year when spring produce is still dominating the market but the temperatures outside are climbing.
This soup is only briefly simmered, which means very little time at a hot stove, and is remenisnent of the old French recipes that call for lettuce and a touch of curry powder. This one in particular owes much to Suzanne Goin. The curry powder is not an overt flavor but lends a deep background note that helps to balance the soup. It can be made in the dead of summer as well, provided that the peas are still sweet, or you can use frozen.
For the Soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup mild sweet onion, finely chopped
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
pinch of curry powder
1 cup fresh shelled peas, from about one pound unshelled
1 cup lettuce, thinly sliced
1 cup water or mild stock
3 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crème fraiche or creamy, whole milk yogurt, divided
Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, add onion, salt, sugar and curry powder and cook gently until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add peas, lettuce and water and simmer briefly until peas turn bright green and are just tender. Remove from heat.
Let soup cool, then puree in a blender or food processor with the basil and ¼ cup of the crème fraiche until fine and silky. If you want to be extra fancy, you can push it through a fine sieve or tamis, but I prefer a slightly rough texture. Place in the refrigerator to chill completely. Meanwhile, make the relish.
For the Relish:
1 T red onion, minced
1/2 lemon for juicing
1/2 cup thinly sliced small radishes (or finely chop larger radishes)
1/2 mango, cut in small cubes
4 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
Toss the onion in a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. If the onion is too pungent, let it sit in the lemon juice for a few minutes to mellow a bit. Add radishes, mango and basil and toss gently.
Remove chilled soup from the refrigerator. Taste and add more salt and fresh ground pepper if needed. Swirl in the remaining crème fraiche and garnish with the relish. Serve with a plate of cold roasted chicken from the market and a few toasted slices of French baguette for a light early summer meal.