Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham | Image: Laura Messersmith

Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts.  I’ll follow along with an episode of the Barefoot Contessa and choose a recipe to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Food Adventures”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are on vacation in Napa (jealous) and Ina’s exploring the local food scene while Jeffrey works on his book. I think Jeffrey got the short end of that deal…

The Menu: Deconstructed Lobster Salad, Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham, Viennese Coffee

0:48 – We start off in the kitchen of the Garten’s Napa rental house with Deconstructed Lobster Salad, an idea she got while visiting Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. Tyler Florence recommended it and when T.F. tells you to try something, you try it!

1:10 – We get some great scenes of the restaurant in action, but my favorite is a shot of a guy wearing shorts embroidered with lobsters and white athletic socks pulled waaay up. When in Rome?

2:03 – Ina is making the sauce for the Deconstructed Lobster Salad. As she zests the lemon she remarks how fortunate it is that the rental house had a rasp. First, let’s be fair, this place could easily be the West Coast outpost of her own gorgeous kitchen. Second, show of hands: who thinks Ina totally travels with a tiny microplane grater?

3:10 – The sauce is comprised of mayo, lemon zest, capers and fresh dill. Is anyone else obsessed with dill lately? Just me? Okay, cool.

4:30 – Time to plate. Two halved lobsters are arranged on a bed of ice, the sauce goes in a small bowl and celery stalks go in a glass. Slice up a little sourdough bread from Boudin Bakery and she’s done.

5:11 – Now to test it on Jeffrey.... Spoiler alert: he loves it. #supportive. It does look pretty cool, but how far you could take this ‘deconstructed’ thing before people called you out? Like, ‘here are some peanuts, purple grapes, and bread – it’s deconstructed PB&J sandwich! Obviously.’

9:17 – After lunch Ina presents Jeffrey with the most decadent, eleven-layer Torte Au Chocolate she made with Paul Lemieux, Executive Pastry Chef at the Auberge Du Soleil hotel.

10:13 – We flash over to the hotel to see how it’s done. Chef Paul walks us very quickly through making meringue discs. I can’t even find a recipe for this cake online, so I’m definitely not making this at home… sorry friends.

11:49 – Ina and Chef Paul bond over their mutual love of chocolate and hazelnut, and I learn a new Italian word for the combination: gianduja.

13:15 – We get another lighting round ‘how to’ from Chef Paul for a layer he calls ‘chocolate decadence’ (hello!) So far the layers seem to be: meringue, chocolate ganache, hazelnut spread, and chocolate decadence. Two words: face plant.

14:01 – More chefyness ensues with the use of a cocoa powder spray gun to get that matte bakery effect. Ina’s finishes spraying with a flourish – blowing the “smoke” off the end like an old-timey gun fighter. Ina is bad a** y’all.

15:18 – Chef Paul releases the cake from the ring form with a BLOWTORCH (for reals!) and puts on a final edging of ground hazelnuts and a little chocolate plaque with the Auberge logo on top. This cake really looks amazing.

19:22 – Next, Ina is at a food truck market called Off the Grid. Someone who lives in San Francisco please visit this for me!

20:10 – While she’s checking out amazing street food Jeffrey’s at home with a bowl of Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham she made for him. This does not seem like a fair trade, but she’s planning to bring him dessert, so that’s something.

21:18 – She says this is one of the easiest recipes she makes and I believe it – it all happens in one pot and seems to take about 10 total minutes of cooking. That dessert better be good, young lady.

22:44 – Like any smart food truck patron she makes a lap before committing. Side Note: I would be so, so psyched if I spotted Ina Garten at a food festival. First up she tries Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese and then checks out an empanada truck. Before she even orders I know she’ll get the Parisienne – aka: Gruyere and ham - aaaand I’m right. Two points for Gryffindor!

23:09 – Back at the rental house Jeffrey is having his dinner. Ina left the most hilarious instructions for him. This is almost verbatim: reheat soup, put ham on top, drizzle with olive oil, love my soup. Ahahahaha. With Jeffrey it’s best to leave nothing to chance.

27:23 – Ina is back from her food truck adventure, and since she feels guilty for heartlessly abandoning her husband to a dish of pea soup she decides to make Viennese Coffee as a special treat to go with the salted caramel cupcakes she brought home.

28:34 – This concoction A. looks amazing. B. appears to be a hybrid of an ice cream float and affogato. C. kinda makes up for that spousal abandonment earlier.

29:44 – Out on the porch for a little dessert with Jeffrey. Ina, you’re forgiven!

Final Thoughts:

Food tourism seems like a fantastic way to organize a vacation – remind me of that when it’s time to plan our next trip!

I love food trucks and festivals, but choosing what to eat is tricky. I wonder how Ina decided?

I’d like to ‘turn up the volume’ on Ina’s Viennese Coffee and make it with coffee ice cream instead of vanilla. Hello, caffeine buzz.

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

Since the eleven layer cake required advanced pastry techniques (well out of my league) and the other dishes didn’t involve a ton of cooking I decided to make the Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham. We need to eat more vegetables and this recipe really is incredibly simple with a very, very short ingredient list.

One note on seasoning - keep an eye on the salt. I served the soup with crispy pancetta and then added a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for interest, but the combination pushed the flavor over the edge into “too salty” territory. Easily remedied with a little more chicken stock or some more unseasoned peas, but something to watch for.

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Absolutely. I used an enameled dutch oven, a blender, a medium bowl, and one small cutting board. Ina uses an immersion blender in the episode, but I only have a regular one so I needed to puree in batches, hence the bowl. For utensils I used a chef’s knife, wooden spoon, rubber spatula, large ladle, a liquid measuring cup and measuring spoons.

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Verdict:

Mike and I had the Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham for dinner earlier this week on what turned out to be a pretty warm night. It’s actually a heartier soup than you might imagine. I think adding a few fresh herbs (mint maybe?), a squeeze of lemon, or possibly even serving it chilled would make it a better summer dish. I’m planning to make it again when it’s cooler and stir some cubes of fresh mozzarella into each bowl – yum.

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Spanish Pea Soup with Crispy Ham | Image: Laura Messersmith