Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spring Peas in a Snap

It has been a tough few weeks, and posting on the blog couldn’t have been further away from my mind.  Now after a few days rest and reflection my desire to live in the moment is renewed.  What better day to catch the fleeting life’s moments than to take advantage of young seasonal produce.  There are things at the farmer’s market that just cream “June” to me… the beautiful local strawberries and blueberries, the rhubarb, the spring onions… So fragile, so fragrant, I love these first young promises of more fresh stuff to come.  But nothing excites me more that the young snap peas.  I love everything about them, the look of slightly wrinkled skins just beginning to dry out.  The popping sound they make when shelled, the sweetness and the freshness, which elevates any spring dish.  Shelling peas is one of my greatest joys in life, I find it not only immensely satisfying but also therapeutic…  It was a favorite childhood chore, I always hoped my mom would get a ton of theses, so I can shell for hours…  I used to make up little stores about the peas in the pod… Imagine them as little families, fat ones were the parents and little ones were the kids.  I felt a little sorry for these pea families, making them homeless, forcing them out of their pods.  I pretended that they screamed “Nooo..!” as their little shell home snapped open….
I had a very vivid imagination….  So when I come upon these in the market I buy a lot… enough to keep me shelling for a long time ( Provided, my daughter does not steal half, she loves shelling peas too… must be genetics thing).  Shelled peas don’t keep very well, so I wanted to come up with as many fresh, very spring dishes as I could.  Here are a few ideas … or you can always eat them raw, they are sweet and fresh and pop in your mouths, think of them as nature’s M&Ms.
Pea Pesto and Grilled vegetables napoleons.  These look as good as they taste.
1 large Zucchini
1 large yellow squash
4 bell peppers ( yellow and Red)
2 tbs of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the pea pesto
1.5 cups of freshly shelled peas
 4 -5 leaves  of fresh basil
A small handful of fresh parsley
4 mint leaves
1 large garlic clove
Zest of half a lemon
1.2 cup of shredded Peccorino cheese
1.2 to 1 cup of olive oil (amount of oil depends on how thin you want your pesto.  I like mine thick with a lot of texture, so I use a little more than ½ a cup
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Drizzle the grilling vegetables with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Grill on medium heat until vegetables are tender but not mushy and you get nice grill marks on them.  Set aside and let cool.
Blanch the peas by cooking them in boiling salted water for no longer than 10 seconds and immediately shocking them with ice water.  This preserves the color, texture and the freshness just taking away the ‘raw’ taste.
Make the pesto by combining ½ the peas and all other ingredients in the food processor.  Pulse until smooth adjusting the amount of oil and seasoning.  When you get the consistency you like, add the rest of the peas and pulse a few times shortly, so that some of the peas are left whole or are just barely broken up.  This gives the pea pesto a very nice rustic texture.
Cut the vegetables in even shapes so they can be stacked together.  Alternate the layers based on color, spreading each layer with pea pesto as you stack.  Top with more pesto.  Take a picture… these are gorgeous.

Peas, Mushroom and Melted leaks tart
1 sheet of frozen puff-pastry (defrosted in the fridge overnight)
1 egg
3 cups of white, button mushrooms
1 large or 2 small shallots minced
1 large leak – white part only, chopped and rinsed of grit.
1 cup shelled peas
3 oz of butter
2 tbs of olive oil
1tsp Herbs de province
2 tbs of freshly shaved parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400F.  Poke the puff pastry all over with a fork, beat the egg and egg-wash the pastry sheet well.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown but not too dark around the edges.  If the pastry puffs up to mush, don’t worry about it, you can always “deflate” it with a few fork pokes before you top it with the vegies.
Make the topping.  Heat the olive oil and 1 oz of butter in a large skillet.  Add the mushrooms and brown them on medium-high heat until they get a nice color.  Reduce the heat to low and add the shallot.  Cook until the shallot has softened up and begins to caramelize.  Keeping the heat low, add the remaining 2 tbs of butter and the leaks.  Add the herbs, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for 15- 20 minutes stirring often until the leaks are very soft and begin to melt into the butter.  Turn off the heat, stir in the fresh peas. 
Top the pre-baked pastry with the vegetables mixture.  Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the edges of the pastry become deep golden.  Top with shaved parmesan and serve warm or at room temperature.
Spring beets and goat cheese salad with Rhubarb vinaigrette.
For the salad.
4 medium size beets any color.  I like the yellow beets in this dish.
1 tbs olive oil
3 cups arugula
¾ cup of freshly shelled peas
¼ cup sliced almonds
2 oz of mild goat cheese
For the vinaigrette.
2 large rhubarb stalks cleaned and chopped
1.2 cup of sugar
1.2 cups of water
Juice of half the lemon
¾ cup of sunflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette.  Cover the rhubarb with water and sugar and simmer until the rhubarb begins falling apart and the liquid is slightly reduced.  Strain the liquid and let it cool.
Whisk the 3 tbs of the rhubarb liquid (reserve the rest for later use), lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Whisk in the oil.
Make the salad.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Rub the beets with olive oil and bake them for 20 – 25 minutes or until they just begin to soften and can be pierced with a fork.   Set aside and let them cool.  When fully cooled, peel of the tough outside skin and slice very thinly, preferably on a mandolin.
Blanch the peas by cooking them in boiling salted water for no longer than 10 seconds and immediately shocking them with ice water. 
Combine arugula, peas, beets and almonds.  Dress with the rhubarb vinaigrette.  Arrange on plate and top with crumbled goat cheese.  I also like to add a bit of finishing salt (such as Fleur de gris ) on top.
Spring is a new beginning not just for nature but it can be one for us all.  Take a moment to enjoy little things, after all your state of mind is at the snap of your fingers, or at the snap of a pea-pod.

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