Note: In the spring, when farmers markets were loaded with sugar snap peas, Russ Parsons created this fresh-as-the-moment soup, as fabulous as much more labor-intensive English pea soup. It can also be served cold, with a few leaves of fresh chervil rather than the Parmesan cream.
2 pounds sugar snap peas
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4cup minced shallots
3/4cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2teaspoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
Up to 1 teaspoon sugar
1/4cup grated Parmesan
1. Add the peas to a large pot of rapidly boiling, generously salted water. Cover the pot and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook until the peas are tender but still a vibrant green, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not cook so long that they turn drab. As soon as the peas are done, drain them and place them in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and preserve their bright color. Drain them again.
2. While the peas are cooking, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook until they are tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
3. Place half of the peas in a blender and purée until very smooth. Add a tablespoon or two of chicken stock, if necessary, to keep the mixture flowing. Add the remaining peas and the cooked shallots and finish puréeing.
4. Pass the pea purée through a strainer into a bowl, pressing with a flat rubber spatula to work it all through. Rinse the spatula blade to remove any fiber and scrape the thick pea purée that sticks to the outside of the strainer into the bowl. Discard the fiber that is left behind in the strainer.
5. Stir just enough chicken stock into the purée to make it a flowing liquid. It should have the consistency of fairly thin split pea soup. Stir in the salt, a few gratings of nutmeg and lemon juice. Taste, and if the peas aren't bright and sweet, stir in enough sugar to correct. If necessary, add more salt and lemon juice as well. The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 8 hours in advance (any longer and the color will start to fade). Refrigerate in a tightly covered container.
6. Pass the purée through the finest strainer you have into a saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat until the mixture is bubbling. While the purée is warming, cook the cream and Parmesan in a small saucepan over medium heat just until the Parmesan melts and the cream is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
7. When the purée is hot, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Taste once more and adjust the seasoning if needed. Divide the soup evenly among 6 warmed soup plates. Gently shake each plate to distribute the purée in an even layer. Spoon some of the Parmesan cream into the center of the purée in a rough "C" pattern. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 142 calories; 5 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 10 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 30 mg. cholesterol; 347 mg. sodium.