We Brits have had a long relationship with peas. I can't imagine life without peas. What would I eat with my fish and chips if I didn't have mushy peas? Or my shepherd's pie? This little ditty, which I learnt as a child, was written in 1765:
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
The "pease" refers to peas, and maybe the porridge is an early version of the classic pea soup, the subject of this week's column. And then there is that classic fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea" about the delicate young lady who can't sleep because she can still feel a pea through layers of mattresses, which proves she is a real princess. I have met plenty of women in my time who would relate to the sensitive heroine of that little tome.
You might have understood by now that I am very keen on great traditional British food. I grew up in the 1970s, when British cuisine was the laughing stock of Europe. In fact the laughing stock of the rest of the world, too, but it was the French in particular who were mercilessly cruel about our gruel. How the tide has turned. Last year the UK had the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants ever, a total of 140. Of those, four had the top accolade of three stars. That hasn't happened since the mid-1990s when yours truly was on the scene. OK, so the French have 26 three-star restaurants and a total of 558 restaurants honoured by the Michelin Guide, but we're catching up. Their scoffing days (pardon the pun) are over.
It is in part classics such as pea soup that have elevated us. These are, of course, dishes we've always eaten, but we have turned them into something special. We have put the Great back into British cooking. And I hope you're doing the same over in the UAE.
The recipe is pretty straightforward. One tip I will give you is to use Birds Eye frozen peas. They're the best. If you can't get hold of them then just go for the best quality you can find. I always like to serve this soup with some chunky white bread and butter; total comfort eating but just what you need over here at this gloomy time of year. But actually it is a meal in itself, and a filling, healthy meal at that. Enjoy it.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
English pea soup
500g beef bacon cut into small strips 2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1.5kg frozen shelled green peas
750ml vegetable stock
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
400ml single cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Brown the beef bacon in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened and browned.
2. Add the peas and sauté with the bacon and onion until they are warm.
3. Add the milk, stock and fresh thyme and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes.
4. Once simmered remove the sprigs of thyme and take the soup off the heat to purée smooth in a blender.
5. Strain the soup through a fine sieve and return to the pot.
6. Finish the soup with the cream, making sure it doesn't boil, and season to taste.