We’ve had a few days of warm spring here now, the eat lunch in the garden, wear short sleeves, admire the crocuses type of day. But mornings like this, when any sunlight that makes it through the windows is filtered through gray clouds that let loose an almost silent drizzle, and the corners of the house are dim and cave-like, feel the most like spring to me. Walking in the rain, seeing the bare edge of blue sky as far off as it can be, looking at all the green spears of tulip, daffodil, onion, and garlic that the muddy ground has pushed up – this is the type of day that makes me want to take root in the garden and feel the growth that is humming in the air.
And even though I enjoy the changes in food that echo each change in season, I also enjoy these sudden cold spring days in the middle of the sunny ones, because it feels like a chance to go back and fix a dish that I missed out on over the winter. These days are an opportunity to mix those ingredients that feel like spring: little round peas, pink-skinned potatoes, fresh cream, and button mushrooms, into a dish that pushes the layer of rain filtered cold away from the house.
These days are, in fact, soup days.
A bit of leisurely prep work in the morning, potato cubing, bacon dicing, & onion chopping accompanied by soft jazz music not only keeps the pace of the slow stretching wake-up that an overcast day inspires, but fits a few dinner dishes into the breakfast cleaning. And there’s something relaxing about putting a stack of prepped food into the refrigerator. The dinner timeline is easier to adjust and any worry about unexpected schedule emergencies during the day can be brushed aside with the knowledge that I am already ahead of the curve.
In between passing rain showers, there is plenty of time to clean some bathrooms, shovel through some of the freshly softened earth, and the other various tasks of the day. When the unexpected guests arrive, the prepped soup is an open-armed dish, easily swelling in welcome. Together with a quickly thrown together batch of cheddar biscuits, the pot provides dinner and then some for the assembly of people in the kitchen.
The comforting heat of a bowl of soup filled with the fresh colors of spring is in balance with the here and gone again sunshine of the day. All the people are warm inside the walls and outside everything is drinking in the rain and growing.
Creamy Spring Clam Chowder with Peas and Bacon
6 medium red-skinned potatoes, in 1/2″ cubes
1 pound bacon, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp basil
1 1/2 tsp thyme
2 cups peas
1 cup white wine
1 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 quart chicken stock
51 oz. canned chopped clams in juice
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, add the bacon and cook until the fat has begun to render out. Add the onion and herbs and cook until the onion is translucent and has begun caramelizing. While the onion is cooking, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and cook the cubed potatoes for 10-15 minutes or until fork tender.
Add peas to the bacon and onion mixture, then deglaze with the white wine. Cook this mixture until the wine is reduced by about half, then melt in the butter. Stir in the flour all at once. The mixture will be thick and starchy. Gradually stir in the chicken stock, clams and juice, milk, and cream. Make sure that the liquid is evenly mixed. Add in the cooked potatoes, worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, then taste to see if the chowder needs any additional salt or pepper. If, after it has heated back up to a simmer, the soup is thicker or richer than you desire, thin it with chicken stock or milk.
Note to the curious: I turned the buttermilk biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbookinto cheese biscuits by pressing some fresh grated sharp cheddar into the dough as I patted it out.