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Published: Tuesday, 3/30/2010

Pea Soup with Serrano Ham

“This is a soup for late spring, when there is still a bit of a chill in the air,” Jose Pizarro writes about this easy recipe. “It’s best made with fresh peas but, since these quickly turn to starch, frozen ones — which keep their sweetness — are a thoroughly acceptable substitute.”

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 shallot, diced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 quart chicken stock

28 ounces shelled peas

4 thin slices of white bread from a small loaf

4 thin slices of Serrano ham

Small bunch of mint, leaves stripped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Saute the shallot and garlic until soft and golden. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and add the peas. Simmer for 4 minutes.

While stock and peas are simmering, you can start cooking the bread and ham. Heat remaining oil in a small frying pan until oil starts to shimmer. Slide the bread, 2 slices at a time, into oil and cook until golden on both sides. Remove and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Repeat process with the ham — you want it crisp and browned. Use more oil if necessary.

Stir the mint leaves into the soup, then use a hand blender to process the mixture to a smooth puree. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, make 4 open-face sandwiches by laying a slice of ham onto each slice of toast. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and then, a bit like launching a paper boat onto a pond, gently float one ham-topped toast in each bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil over each serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Seasonal Spanish Food by Jose Pizarro (Kyle, $32.95)

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