- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

After living through six weeks of kitchen remodeling, I was thrilled to have my favorite room back in order and looking forward to preparing for a dinner party.

Just as I was checking my files to plan a menu, however, an editor called to ask if I could write a small cookbook on coffee and treats in just a few months’ time. When I said yes, I knew my entertaining would have to be simplified for a while. The dinner party I was longing to have would end up on hold.

Then I thought of a solution. I would have a potluck dinner. I called three other couples, all of whom love to cook, and each responded enthusiastically. One pair volunteered to do appetizers, another to do dessert, and the last to make side dishes. I would prepare the entree and a first course.

I decided on grilled lamb as the centerpiece of the meal and telephoned my fellow cooks to coordinate.

The hors d’oeuvre chef said she was thinking of bringing Parmesan cheese crisps plus a bluefish dip to serve with vegetables.

The side-dish volunteer was ready to make baked polenta and spinach-stuffed portobellos.

The dessert enthusiast was considering a chocolate roll filled with apricot jam and coated with a chocolate glaze. My mouth was watering when I finished my calls.

I knew I would marinate and grill the lamb and was thinking of a fresh pea soup as the opener. The day before the supper, though, I couldn’t find good fresh peas. At the last minute, I decided to prepare the recipe with frozen peas. I was delighted with the results.

I sauteed chopped leeks in butter, added peas and diced potatoes, then simmered the vegetables in chicken stock for about 20 minutes. After pureeing the mixture, I whisked in some sour cream and a hint of nutmeg and cayenne pepper to complement the flavor of the peas. Bowls of the verdant soup were attractive garnished with dollops of sour cream and sprinkles of fresh chopped chives.

This dish took little time to make and held up well when prepared a day in advance. It is light and delicate in taste (not rich and filling like split-pea soup) and could be followed by grilled salmon or chicken as well as lamb.

Later this week, I’m serving the pea soup along with a salad of Bibb lettuce and thinly sliced radishes as lunch for a friend. My new book project won’t keep me from entertaining — simply, that is.

Spring sweet pea soup with chives

The soup can be made 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium low heat.

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)

5 cups fresh or frozen peas, defrosted and patted dry (see note)

2 small potatoes (about ½ pound total), peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

Salt

5½ cups chicken stock

3/4 cup sour cream, divided

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons chopped chives

Heat butter in medium-size pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add leeks and saute, stirring until softened, about 4 minutes. Add peas, potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook and stir a few seconds more. Add stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree mixture in a food processor, blender or food mill, or use an immersion blender. Be careful as you puree because the soup will still be hot.

Return pureed soup to the pot in which it was cooked. Whisk in ½ cup sour cream. Then whisk in the nutmeg and cayenne pepper (use 1/4 teaspoon for a spicier accent, 1/8 teaspoon for a milder one).

Taste and add more salt, as needed. Even if you used salted stock, you may need to season the soup with additional salt.

To serve, ladle soup into 8 soup bowls. Garnish the center of each serving with a dollop of the remaining sour cream and sprinkle with some chives. Makes 8 generous 1-cup servings.

Note: 2½ 10-ounce packages frozen peas will yield about 5 cups.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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