Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sweet Pea Serenade

Fast and Fabulous Creamy Pea and Potato Soup with Ham and Cheese Paninis
Surely I have sung the praises of soup before, but what the heck . . . here I go again. I just freakin' love soup and sandwiches for dinner. They're fast, inexpensive to make, and offer nearly infinite possibilities of ingredients to throw in a pot and shove between two slices of toasted bread. My panini press/griddle/grill is one of my favorite extravagant kitchen appliances. Is it necessary? No. It's not like a great set of knives or a food processor. But, it sure allows for a lot of kitchen creativity. I whipped this dinner up in less than a half hour. I made sandwiches for two, but the soup easily made enough for four with leftovers. Try it out for a quick and yummy weeknight family dinner!

- 4 slices crusty sourdough bread
- 4 slices Black Forest Ham
- 4 slices of your favorite cheese (I had Swiss with mine, my sweetie prefers cheddar)
- olive oil
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 qt. chicken broth
- 6 oz. smokey bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, dinced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- leaves from 5 springs fresh thyme
- 8 oz. frozen peas
- 1 medium russet potato, washed and diced into 1" pieces
- 8 oz. cream cheese cut into 2" pieces
- salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a medium sized heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until bacon is cooked through and begins to crisp. Remove bacon from pot with a slotted spoon, reserving fat in the pot, and allow it to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add diced onion to bacon drippings and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add garlic. Cook for 1-2 additional minute, stirring to combine, until garlic becomes fragrant. Add potatoes, thyme, and chicken broth and turn heat up to high to bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

While the potato mixture simmers, prepare the paninis. Heat the panini press to high heat and brush one side of each slice of bread with a little olive oil. With the oiled side down, stack each sandwich with a slice of cheese, two pieces of ham, a couple grinds of fresh pepper, the remaining slice of cheese, and top it with a slice of bread with its oiled side up. Place paninis on press and grill for about 5 minutes until the bread is toasty and the cheese is melted. 

Once the soup has simmered, add peas, and cook for an additional 2 minutes for peas to heat through. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or blend in batches in a regular blender. Blend until smooth. Return to low heat and add cream cheese, whisking until soup is smooth. Add cooked bacon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with sandwiches.

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