The Christian world begins its observation of Lent on Wednesday, a sure sign that spring is on its way: daylight saving time begins on March 13; the first official day of spring is March 20; and Easter is celebrated on April 17. Good news all around! Ash Wednesday means fast and abstinence, too (no need for explanation I trust), and I like to suggest some spring-like soup recipes that are good for Ash Wednesday, Lenten Fridays and, for that matter, whenever you’re looking for a satisfying supper.
CREAMY CARROT SOUP
SERVES 6 TO 8
A few whole cloves add magic to this soup. For a thicker consistency add a chopped potato.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 carrots, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
10 whole cloves
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
Minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
1. In large saucepan over medium heat, heat butter and oil. Add carrots, onions, garlic, and cloves; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft but not browned.
2. Add stock or broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Remove cloves and discard. Remove from heat; let cool for 10 minutes.
3. Working in batches, transfer mixture to food processor or blender and purée until smooth (or use an immersion blender and purée in the pan). Return purée to saucepan over medium heat; stir in lemon juice and sugar. Simmer until heated through; season with salt and pepper.
4. To serve, ladle soup into shallow bowls; drizzle with cream and sprinkle with parsley.
SPRING PEA SOUP
My mother used to make pea soup using split peas and a leftover ham bone, a recipe from her mother, but it was always too thick and heavy for my palate. On a visit to County Fermanagh a few years ago, I tasted this much lighter soup made with fresh (or frozen) peas, which I found to be a refreshing change. Top the soup with croutons and shavings of parmesan cheese.
1 ounce unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound fresh or frozen peas
1 cup half and half
Ground black pepper
Croutons, for serving
Shaved Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in onion; cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft but not browned. Add stock or broth; bring to a boil. Add potato; reduce heat to low, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until potato is tender. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Add peas (if using frozen, bring back to a boil); reduce heat and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until tender.
Remove from heat; let cool for 10 minutes.
3. Working in batches, transfer mixture to food processor or blender and purée until smooth (or use an immersion blender and purée in the pan). Return purée to saucepan; stir in half-and-half. Simmer until heated through; season with salt and pepper.
4. To serve, ladle soup into shallow bowls; sprinkle with croutons.
The recipe is generally served with Brown Soda Bread.
6 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk, slightly warmed
2 leeks (white part only), washed and sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1/4 pound mussels, steamed, shells discarded
1/4 pound clams, steamed, shells discarded
1/2 pound mixed seafood, such as salmon, shrimp, and scallops
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as basil, dill, chervil and chives
1. In a large saucepan or stockpot or over medium heat, melt 4 ounces of butter. Stir in flour; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until blended. Slowly whisk in milk; cook, whisking constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until smooth.
2. In another saucepan over medium heat, melt remaining butter. Add leeks, onion, and carrot; cook, covered, stirring once or twice, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until vegetables are soft but not browned. Add fish stock or clam juice, wine, and garlic; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until reduced by half.
3. Stir in shellfish and seafood; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until liquid is reduced again by half. Stir in milk mixture; season with salt and pepper. Cook until heated through.
4. To serve, ladle chowder into shallow bowls; sprinkle with herbs.
Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page occasionally incudes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, or to order a signed copy of one of her cookbooks, visit www.irishcook.com