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8 & $20: Sweet Pea Soup and Sparkling Wine

This elegant twist for Valentine's Day brings springtime to winter
Photo by: Samantha Falewée
Simple ingredients like peas, chicken stock and sautéed onions—plus a splash of bubbly—come together in this filling soup.

Samantha Falewée
Posted: February 14, 2017

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

In mid-February, you don’t expect to see bright colors like spring green at your table as you sit down for dinner. But when was the last time you had pea soup? Best consumed hot, this meal is hearty and healthy, even as it masquerades as a springtime appetizer. With only a few inexpensive ingredients, it’s easy to make, but finishing it off with a splash of Champagne can transform it into a special-occasion meal. Add a loaf of crusty French bread as a simple, rustic addition to mop up whatever your spoon can't reach.

There’s a difference between split pea soup—a thinner soup with whole carrots, peas and often ham—and pea soup, which is a smooth purée. For this recipe, frozen peas are completely fine as an alternative for fresh peas, making it great for the winter season. If, like me, you save chicken stock in the freezer, now’s the time to use it. I start off by sautéing onions to combine with the stock, loving the richer flavor and decadent smell they add. Be sure to begin with the biggest saucepan you have; by the time you add the peas to the stock, you'll have quite a large volume.

Take your time: This soup benefits from longer, slower cooking. After a harried day, this felt like a luxury because I didn’t have to worry about overcooking as I wrapped up home tasks. I initially let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes and then added more time, slowly stirring and mashing the peas with a long-handled wooden spoon.

When it was ready, I had to divide the soup into two batches to blend it. Some recipes advise straining the soup to take out the pea skins; here, however, the blender does that job for you, leaving the shredded skins undetectable to fussy eaters while adding richness and texture to the purée.

Once you add the dry Sherry, you’ll note a significant increase in flavor. Instead of leaning on salt and pepper, using Sherry gives the soup more depth and less bite.

Finally, splashing a bit of Champagne over the dish adds a bit of fun and decadence, elevating this into a soup akin to a refined crème ninon. The ingredients for that French classic vary slightly from this pea soup—the main difference being a bit of heavy cream—but the key is that light pour of Champagne, or any sparkler, over the soup just before you tuck in.

With that in mind, I paired this meal with a dry, medium-bodied sparkling wine like Prosecco. The one I selected had a creamy mousse, lush mouthfeel and enough weight to balance the puree. The dash of bubbly in the soup tied its flavors to the wine in my glass, with the mild earthy taste of the peas complementing the Prosecco's almond and floral notes.

Other white wines will work well too. Just be sure to select one with moderate acidity so it doesn't feel flabby next to the soup and the fruit flavors don't become candied in contrast.

A medium-bodied Vermentino had fruity aromas that developed into tart green apple on the palate, but the wine brought out a sour taste in the peas and I was looking for a fresher finish. Another Italian white, a moderately viscous Gavi with light floral notes and a hint of persimmon, balanced a smooth mouthfeel with bright acidity on the finish, making for a better pairing.

But if we’re being honest, Valentine’s Day is always better with bubbly. With this soup, I would steer clear of sparkling wines that have strong brioche flavors and select a less-rich style that exhibits both floral and light pastry notes. If someone special is joining you for dinner, add a bouquet of flowers to the table and let the bubbly flow!

Sweet Pea Soup

Pair with fun bubbly like Tiziano Dry Prosecco NV (87 points, $13).

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Approximate food costs: $15

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 6 cups frozen sweet peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dry Sherry
  • 1 tablespoon chives, chopped, for garnish
  • Sour cream, for garnish

1. Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat. Add chopped onion and cook slowly until soft and translucent, around 10 minutes.

2. Add chicken stock and peas. Bring mixture to a simmer and leave for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool slightly.

3. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor, dividing into batches if necessary. Process until smooth.

4. Pour soup back into a large bowl and add Sherry. Add salt and pepper to taste. To liven the occasion, pour in a splash of sparkling wine. Garnish soup with chopped chives and a dollop of sour cream. Serves 4 to 6.

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