Peas and Pea Shoots in a Springtime Soup

“I eat my peas with honey–
Ballaro, piselliI’ve done it
all my life.

It may sound kinda funny,

But it sticks them to the knife.”

Pea time is almost upon us—fresh, sweet, tiny, early green peas are right around the corner, and even if you’ve been eating peas from the frozen food section all year long (and I’ll admit, peas are one of the few vegetables that actually freeze very nicely), you’ll still welcome the first sight of these beauties at a local farm stand. Use them as an excuse to make this splendid soup, which was featured in the Spring section of The Four Seasons of Pasta, the book I published last year with my daughter Chef Sara Jenkins. Use the freshest peas you can find along with pea shoots, if you can locate them. Many farmers markets and farm stands now feature these leafy tops of the young pea vines along with their soft curly tendrils, and they make a handsome amd tasty addition to the soup. Lacking pea shoots, you could use watercress, although the flavor will be a bit spicier. If you use watercress, change the quantities—3 cups of shucked fresh peas and 3 cups of loosely packed watercress should do it.
peasAnd here’s a tip from the Italian farmwife’s frugal kitchen: When you come to the end of a wedge of parmigiano reggiano cheese, having grated it liberallyu over pastas, soups, and salads (and perhaps even served it, Italian-style, as dessert), don’t discard the rind. It will keep, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for several weeks, or store it in the freezer for longer periods. Then, when you’re making a chicken or vegetable stock, as in this recipe, just toss it in–it will add subtle richness and meaty flavor. When the stock is done, extract the rind and discard it.

Ditalini are small tube-shaped pastas, as if you took a strand of bucatini and chopped it into half-inch bits. You could substitute elbow macaroni, or any other type of small pasta shape—keeping in mind that this is a soup, so any shape too big to fit on a soup spoon is not advisable.

peas darkerAnd about that rhyme up above: My grandfather, long since gone to his rest, ate peas with a knife, as he did most of his food, but not with honey and honey is not recommended for this soup, which would be kinda funny to eat with a knife in any case.

Pasta and Parmesan Broth with Peas and Pea Shoots

Serves 6.

  • 10 cups well-flavored chicken stock, preferably home-made
  • ½ pound, more or less (a couple of chunks), parmigiano-reggiano rinds
  • Sea salt
  • About 3/4 pound ditalini pasta
  • 2 cups tender, young peas, freshly picked and shucked
  • 4 loosely packed cups pea shoots
  • freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Combine the stock and the parmigiano rinds in a saucepan and bring to a bare simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low–the liquid should be just barely bubbling up from the bottom; use a flame tamer if necessary. Simmer, uncovered, until the stock is reduced to 8 cups, about 2 hours. Strain the stock and discard the rinds. (This may be done ahead of time; the stock is fine for an hour or so, depending on ambient temperature, but for a longer time, it should be refrigerated.)

When you’re ready to continue with the soup, return the stock to simmering over medium-low heat. Add the ditalini and cook according to instructions on the package. (Ditalini should take about 10 minutes.) When the ditalini are almost al dente, add the peas—they will take about 2 minutes to cook.

When the peas are done, add the pea shoots and the grated lemon zest to the simmering stock. Taste for salt, adjust if necessary, add plenty of ground black pepper and the grated parmigiano, and serve immediately.


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