Spring Soups

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Los Angeles Times
food writer Russ Parsons dishes up delicious spring soups.

Potato and green garlic chowder
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 pound green garlic

1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Black pepper

Good olive oil

Grated pecorino Romano

Trim the root ends of the green garlic and the very tips of the green leaves if they are dried out. Cut the green garlic crosswise in thin pieces. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and then in rough 1/2-inch pieces.

Combine the butter and onion in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring roughly until the butter melts and the onions turn soft and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the green garlic, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and turn them in the garlic mixture. Add the water and salt, increase the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Cook at a quick simmer until the potatoes are soft enough to be smashed with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Coarsely puree the potatoes and garlic. This is most easily done with an immersion blender, but can also be done in a food processor or blender if you're careful to pulse very quickly. The mixture should be rough and chunky; you don't want a smooth puree.

Add the sherry vinegar and a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste and add more salt, pepper or vinegar if necessary. Return to the pan and simmer another 5 minutes.

Stir briskly just before serving. Ladle into warm serving bowls, drizzle with a thread of good olive oil and sprinkle over 1 to 2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano.

Chilled sweet pea bisque with Dungeness crab and mint
Serves 4

1 3/4 pounds English peas in their shells

1 onion, chopped

8 cups water

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon butter

1 leek, chopped

1/4 cup rice

3 ounces Dungeness crab (a little more than 1/2 cup), preferably leg and claw meat

1 tablespoon thinly slivered mint

1-2 teaspoons lemon juice

Shell the peas, collecting the peas in a bowl (you should have about 2 cups) and putting the pods in a large saucepan. Rinse the pods under running water, and then add the onion and the 8 cups of water, the salt and the sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until the pods are fairly soft and quite fragrant, about 15 minutes. Strain into a measuring cup, discarding the cooked pods. You should have about 6 cups of broth.

Rinse out the saucepan and heat the butter and leek in it. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the leek softens, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat well. Add 5 cups of the broth and bring to a simmer. Cook until the rice is quite soft, about 20 minutes. The kernels should be soft enough they're beginning to split at the ends and should offer very little resistance when tasted.

Add the peas and increase the heat to high. Cook just until their color brightens and they soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle about half of the brothy pea and rice mixture into a blender. Cover the top with a towel to prevent any splashing and pulse once or twice on low speed to get the mixture started. Once the mixture has been chopped, blend at low speed about 30 seconds, and then raise the speed to high for about 10 seconds, until the mixture is a smooth puree.

Strain the mixture into a pot, stirring it and rubbing it against the bottom and sides of the strainer with a rubber spatula until all that is left is a fairly dry mixture of broken rice and pea skins. Repeat with the remaining soup. You should have about 3 cups of soup; if necessary, add a little more of the broth to make that amount. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Refrigerate, tightly covered until chilled. (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 4 hours in advance.)

When ready to serve, gently stir together the crab and the mint in a small bowl, being careful not to break up the crab meat. Whisk lemon juice into the pea soup and taste and add more salt or lemon if necessary. Ladle about 3/4 cup of soup into each of 4 shallow soup plates or pasta bowls. Carefully spoon about 2 tablespoons of the crab mixture in the center of the soup and serve.

Shrimp and artichoke soup with spring herb gnocchi
Serves 6
1/3 pound medium shrimp, shell-on

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

6 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1/2 lemon

2 large artichokes or 4 medium or 6 small, trimmed to hearts and cut in rough 3/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

Mixed chopped herbs

Prepare the gnocchi and set aside. Peel the shrimp, collecting the shells in a saucepan. Cut the meat in half crosswise. To the shells, add the onion, garlic, salt, peppercorns, lemon and a handful of herb stems and trimmings from preparing the gnocchi. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cook 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot over medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the chopped artichokes and cook, stirring, 4-5 minutes. Pour the shrimp stock through a strainer over the artichokes and simmer until the artichokes are tender enough to cut with the back of a knife, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and continue cooking over low heat. (The recipe can be prepared to this point up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerated tightly covered; reheat gently.)

Carefully drop the gnocchi into the boiling water. Just cook a handful at a time. Stir gently to keep them from sticking to the bottom and cook until they float to the surface, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the pot with a skimmer and add to the soup pot. Repeat, cooking all of the gnocchi.

Ladle the finished soup into 6 warmed soup plates or pasta bowls, sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve immediately.
Fresh herb gnocchi

1/2 cup ricotta

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 teaspoon minced tarragon

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 teaspoon minced chives

5-6 tablespoons flour

In a medium mixing bowl, beat until smooth the ricotta, egg yolk, Parmigiano-Reggiano and the tarragon, parsley and chives. Beat in the flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture forms a ball that holds together. It may still be slightly sticky.

Flour your hands. Tear off a small piece of the dough and roll it between your palms to form a small ball roughly 1/2 inch across. Set aside on a lightly floured towel and repeat using up all of the dough. You should have about 30 gnocchi.

Recipes courtesy of Russ Parsons.

Music break: JW by Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra