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A Savory Soup For Spring

Tom Valenti has made a big name for himself in New York, where food connoisseurs flock to the Upper West Side to eat at his award-winning restaurant, "Ouest."

Also a cookbook author, Valenti was trained in classic French and Italian cuisine and is well known for bringing a bold twist to traditional foods.

Valenti joined The Early Show on Wednesday for part three of its series, "Culinary Inspirations," with a dish well suited for the new season. On the menu, spring pea soup with parmesan flan.

Technique for blanching
One of the most important steps for this soup is blanching the peas first. This term means to plunge foods into boiling water for a few seconds or a few minutes, then remove and place in ice water. This process sets the color of vegetables, lets you easily peel fruits, and slip the skins off nuts. The food does not cook all the way through, so crisp texture is preserved. You are "shocking" the peas to set the color and to set the crisp texture. This also lets you cook everything to the same time, since if you were to put the onions, garlic, and peas in first, the onions might overcook while you're waiting for the peas to cook to the right point.


Spring Pea Soup with Parmesan Flan

2 pounds frozen petit peas (baby peas)
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 quart low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh baby pea tendrils (optional)

In a medium-size sauce pan, add two quarts of water and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil. Add peas and cook until the peas float, about two minutes. Drain and shock the peas in salted ice water for two minutes, drain and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Add the diced onions and the sliced garlic, stir and sweat until translucent. Be sure not to let the mixture brown at all. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer, then add the chilled peas and one tablespoon of the remaining sugar. Let simmer for two minutes, remove from heat and place 6 to 8 ounces at a time into a blender and puree until smooth. (Be careful of hot ingredients going into a blender; it is always best to place a dish towel over the top of the blender and hold the top down while in use.)

If you have a fine strainer, pour the pureed soup through to strain out any larger pieces. If you do not have a strainer, just puree a little longer. Repeat until finished.

Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

If you like the soup a little thinner, you can add more chicken broth. Soup can be made in advance and be reheated for later use.

To serve, place a hot flan in the center of a shallow soup bowl. Ladle 4 to 6 ounces of the soup around the flan and garnish with a parmesan crisp and baby pea tendrils.

Parmesan Flan

1 pint heavy cream
5 eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 pieces of 4-ounce disposable aluminum cupcake tin
Non-stick cooking spray

Place all ingredients into a bowl and thoroughly combine.

Lightly coat each tin with the cooking spray and place inside of a shallow baking pan.

Fill each tin about 3/4 full.

Place the baking pan into a preheated 350-degree oven. But before you close the oven door, pour warm water into the pan, coming at least 1/3 of the way up on the aluminum tins. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and close door.

After about 20 minutes, look at the flans. Gently nudge the baking pan while looking at the center of one of the flans. If they are firm and do not ripple, they are done. You can invert the tin and place it in the center of your soup bowl, then just lift off the tin.

Parmesan Crisp

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan, per crisp

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Use a baking sheet lined with a Silpat (non-stick silicone baking sheet) or a sheet of parchment paper that has been sprayed with Pam.

Place 1 1/2 tablespoons of grated parmesan in a small pile and just pat down. (If you spread the cheese too thin the crisp will be very brittle.)

The cheese will start to flatten out and change to a golden brown. At this point, remove from the oven and use a spatula to peel the crisps off the pan. Let them cool on a flat surface.

Reserve until needed, but serve them the same day.