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summer pea, pancetta, and parsley soup

This dish will henceforth be known as the “three ps soup” in my house, both because it seems fitting, and because it’s a sister dish to my “four ps pasta”. But the latter does require a little explanation, if you’ll allow for a small detour from soup to pasta.

The four ps pasta is one of the most memorable foods from my childhood. My mum would make it, without a recipe (although I do believe it originally started with Claudia Roden), seeming to conjure happiness out of a few fridge and storecupboard ingredients. To my hungry eyes, it seemed like my mum was in possession of the most entrancing kitchen magic as the house would fill with savoury-scented clouds of sizzling bacon, the hug-like fug of simmering chicken broth.

Served in big bowls, with a little bit of brothy sauce, it has all the charm and healing powers of chicken soup, but with pancetta. Yum. Peas give it sweetness. Parsley a little earthy grassiness. And the fourth p? Well, that’s parmesan – unleash a few soft curls on top and it wraps the whole bowl in salty, umami-rich goodness. Yes, there’s a historic leaning to my adoration, I’ve been a fan for what is now almost three decades, but I can tell you, it’s one of the best things to eat.

Pasta is all-year-round, any-day-of-the-week goodness so you might wonder why I decided to transmogrify what’s already pretty perfect. But sometimes you just want soup. And, in the spirit of honesty, it was an accident. I didn’t really realise what I was on my way to making, until I leaned over the pot and breathed it in. There it was, the scent of home. All it needed was a verdant drenching in parsley and we’d have culinary lift off. I was a very happy Giv that night.

Soup’s fantastic, even in the summer. If the weather’s hot, there’s gazpacho to cool your down. But if it’s dreich (which it is), you want something warming, comforting and packed with the vibrancy of summer to counteract the drizzly day. Incidentally, dreich is one of the best words I’ve learned since moving to Scotland. It perfectly captures a day that’s slightly gloomy, maybe a bit wet, meaning “dreary” or “bleak”. So, yeah, today. And yesterday.

At its most basic, you could call this ham and pea soup. But where many recipes would have you add cream, this just uses the blended peas to add thickness. And the richness comes from the rendered pancetta nubbins that are cooked in a little bit of butter. So it’s deeply satisfying, but light and vibrant. And deliciously quick to cook, probably 10 minutes all told, making this a serious contender for work-night supper. Or when you just need a taste of home.

summer pea, pancetta, and parsley soup
serves two as a main, four as a starter

100g pancetta
200g frozen peas
small handful of parsley (5-7g)
1 leek (white parts sliced)
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp unsalted butter and 1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Slice the white part of the leek into thin rounds while you heat oil and butter together in a small soup pot (the light olive oil, or other neutral oil, will keep the butter from burning).

Lightly saute the pancetta and leek in the pot with a small pinch of salt. Be conservative with the salt at this stage as the pancetta itself is salty – you just want a bit to encourage the leek to start to soften, rather than brown.

Fry the mixture until the pancetta’s cooked, but not crispy, and the leek’s are softened – about 3-5 minutes. Stir frequently so the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Pour over the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Once it’s bubbling, add the peas, chopped parsley (a few stalks are fine with the leaves here because it’ll all get blitzed), and a healthy grinding of fresh pepper.

Once the peas are cooked through and tender, switch off the heat and blitz the entire mixture. An immersion blender works well, as would a blender. But if you’re using the latter, let the soup cool down a bit before you whizz.

Once the soup’s blended, bring back up to the boil, taste for seasoning and serve.

Note: A swirl of grassy green extra virgin olive oil would be lovely here, as would some crusty white bread and perhaps some snowy white goat’s cheese. And if you want to make it a bit more substantial, you can always slip in some cooked small pasta shapes – like ditalini – at the end, perhaps with a small splash of the pasta cooking liquid. But whatever your additional food stuffs, I can vouch for enjoying it all with a glass of chilled pale pink rosé.

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