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Sweet Pea Soup with Pancetta and Mint Tea Vapor

Serves 4

For the mint tea

2 cups water
2 generous tablespoons dried mint (or three peppermint teabags)

In a small saucepan, heat the water and mint to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the water. Take off heat and reserve. (Remove teabags if using, but don't bother straining loose mint.)

For the soup

2 ounces pancetta, cut into small dice
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped fine
4 slices artisan bread, cut into large cubes
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced thin
1 large shallot, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
½ cup dry vermouth
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup water
10 ounces organic frozen peas or 2 pounds fresh peas, shucked; reserve a few whole peas for garnish
Balsamic vinegar, to taste (optional)
¼ cup firm goat or sheep cheese, shaved into thin strips with a vegetable peeler
Dry ice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, slowly fry the pancetta until crisp. Scoop the pancetta onto a paper towel-lined plate, leaving rendered fat in the pan. Transfer the pancetta to a small bowl and mix with the mint. Reserve.

Toss the bread cubes with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toast in the oven until lightly brown and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve.

Heat the rendered fat and the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat and then add the leek, shallot and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper (remember that the pancetta is salty). Cook for 5 to 8 minutes until soft. Add the vermouth and boil until it is almost entirely evaporated. Add the stock and water and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the peas. Simmer for 3 minutes.

Working in batches, blend the soup in a blender until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer into a new saucepan, using a spatula to press some solids through the strainer. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a bit of balsamic if you like. Keep warm, but do not cook further or the nice bright green color will dull.

To avoid burns from the ice, wear gloves! Chip off a few chunks of the dry ice (a screwdriver works well) for each serving of soup. Reheat the mint tea and add ½ cup to an outer bowl. Fill a smaller inner bowl with soup and place in the outer bowl. Repeat with remaining soup bowls. Garnish soup with a spoonful of the pancetta-mint mixture, some croutons, shavings of cheese and a few reserved peas. Add the dry ice bits to the outer bowl just before serving to create a smoky vapor that will help diffuse the mint-tea vapor. Serve immediately.