A soup course may be old-school, but it never fails to delight, putting any special-occasion meal right over the top. The smooth, sophisticated pea and parsley soup is an homage to the season. It gets body from creme fraiche and a salty snap from orbs of golden caviar.
This recipe is adapted from Sarah Copeland's forthcoming book, "Feast" (Chronicle Books).When you gradually add warm broth to barley, it turns tender and creamy -- the same texture that Arborio rice gives risotto. The chard, always amenable to grains, is a revelation, becoming sweet and almost satiny after about five minutes in the pot. And although cooking radishes may sound odd, it tames their bite without masking their liveliness. Preserved lemon, with its complex aroma and acidity, stands up to the hearty flavors.
There are cards to write, presents to wrap, and friends stopping by. When you're swept up in the holiday whirl, getting a weeknight meal on the table can be a challenge. The solution: Cook the components of this hearty shepherd's pie up to five days in advance, and then assemble and bake -- in batches big and small -- whenever the joyous chaos allows.
A capon, which weighs a good eight or nine pounds, is a young male chicken that has been neutered. The snow-white breast meat is very tender and finely textured. You can find capons fresh or frozen at butcher shops and many supermarkets.