Peas, Pearls and Pesto

the things you'll find

It’s funny what you find when going through boxes in the time around a move. If you’re a bit of a pack rat, like we are, there will be loads of paper – receipts, ticket stubs, take out menus from old haunts, greeting cards from birthdays long-past, and magazines. Like this issue of Food and Wine from April 2004 (interestingly, the very month I moved to NYC).

Food and Wine, April 2004

I took a break from my culling and purging to take a cursory glance at the contents, and this photo caught my eye, a dish of peas and pearl couscous, lovely little orbs dancing together in a sauce of butter and fresh mint, just the kind of simple summer side I love. I set the magazine aside to recycle, but filed the recipe away in my mind, and when I spotted fresh peas from Simmons Farm at our farmers’ market over the weekend, I knew just how I’d prepare them.

worth waiting for

First, the shelling.

my assistant

(Kirby helped.)

peas, pearls, and pesto

I took my two cups of shelled fresh peas, blanched them briefly and shocked them in an ice bath, then tossed them with my cooked couscous (1 cup dry plus 1 1/4 cups water and a good pinch of sea salt). I diverted from the butter-and-mint sauce in the original dish, instead using about a quarter cup of my lemony basil-pistachio pesto.

Dinner: June 29, 2011

The whole thing got a good toss, then I spooned some onto our plates alongside simply seared salmon filets, a perfect early-summer meal in just minutes.

No-sweat Cooking, Day 16

Dinner: August 11, 2010

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via rachaelraymag.com, welcome!

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of pizza around here – oven-baked, grilled, deep dish, we love them all, but homemade pizza is generally a rather time-intensive proposition in our kitchen.

cheese + pepperoni

Though I sometimes pitch a fit and win the right to take on a pizza dinner, my husband is really the resident pizzaiolo. Mastering his best version of pizza in all forms is a project he’s been working on practically the entire time we’ve been together, so I was delighted when he showed such enthusiasm about the decidedly non-fussy Pepperoni Flatbreads recipe in Melissa Clark’s No-sweat Cooking piece.

the good stuff

One thing that I’m pretty certain got him on board was the fact that we had recently tasted some incredible artisanal pepperoni from Armandino Batali’s Salumi, newly available at our favorite spot in town for all things meaty and cheesy. Combine that delicious cured meat with some cheese (I used a blend of fresh mozz and some other grating cheeses – yes, I just have to put my own spin on things) and what was basically a vibrant salad of chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes and basil from our garden on a base of Olga’s pizza shells, and you have a real winner on your hands.

Get the Recipe: Pepperoni Flatbreads

No-sweat Cooking, Day 4

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray

Pasta with pesto is a favorite this time of year, when fresh basil is so abundant most people can’t keep up with what their gardens are producing, but I have to admit I get bored with it sometimes. Melissa Clark’s no-sweat version has a couple of fun grace notes added in the form of crisp crumbled bacon and creamy ricotta – two additions that make this simple dish sing.

zucchini ribbons

I made a couple of minor changes to the original recipe, using ribbons of zucchini instead of asparagus since that’s what we had on hand, and adding a spritz of lemon juice to the pesto for brightness. The dish came together in minutes and had a wonderful combination of textures and flavors – it was just what I needed after a long day at the office.

Get the recipe: Arugula Pesto Pasta with Ricotta and Bacon

Something Fishy

little gems

The weather seems to finally have turned, and I’ve really been craving lighter, brighter flavors. It’s perfect timing, really, because the farmers’ markets around Boston are finally open for the season, which means that we can now shop at a farmers’ market in Providence or Boston nearly every day of the week. It’s really the beginning of the very best time of the year to cook and eat around these parts.

they look like they're marching

The warmer weather also means that I love to escape from my windowless office whenever possible and take a lunchtime stroll up the North End to visit my favorite fishmongers. Liz and Keri always have beautiful fresh seafood, and it’s always a treat to visit their adorable shop, chat with them, and know that I’m bringing home something delicious to cook up.

Dinner: June 9, 2010

For the second week running, one of those delicious offerings from the sea was soft shell crabs, in season right now, and particularly sweet and tasty. Last week I soaked some in buttermilk, dredged them in flour, and served the crispy little guys on a “broken” basil and lemon puree; this time around I went with a different take. They got a super light coating of seasoned Wondra flour, then a brief saute in a hot pan slicked with a little bit of grapeseed oil, then I served them up with a sprinkle of slivered almonds and a dipping sauce composed of tamari, mirin, rice wine vinegar, shaved green garlic, and a little toasted sesame oil.

cucumber salad

On the side, I served up a salad of cucumber ribbons dressed with a light rice wine vinaigrette, slivers of nori from She Sells Seaweed, and black sesame seeds, very much inspired by a dish we had at last years Farm Fresh RI Local Food Fest.

Dinner: June 10, 2010

Last night’s seafood preparation was even simpler. I had two gorgeous pieces of mahi mahi, which I salted, dried well, then seared in a bit of grapeseed oil until the skin was crackly-crisp. When I flipped the fish so the skin side was up, I added a nub of anchovy butter, which soaked into the flesh of the fish, infusing it with more rich flavor, and I served the seared filets on top of a basil and garlic scape citronette, with simply halved and salted tiny heirloom tomatoes from Kimball’s Fruit Farm scattered around. Quick, simple, delicious.

Bean there, done that

four

Let’s talk about lunch for a minute. For me, it’s usually leftovers, but this time of year I don’t generate many, so I’ve had to get creative and plan ahead a bit.

And so it was that when I got home from work yesterday, literally minutes before the sky opened up, I got to work on last night’s dinner and today’s lunch. We had beans aplenty in the fridge from our weekend marketing, and since this week’s Summer Fest is all about beans and greens, a fresh bean salad was in order.

summerfest-badge-300x277

I got a big pot of salted water going on the stove to both blanch the beans for my salad and boil the pasta for dinner, then sat with a cocktail and started shelling a bunch of fresh cranberry beans. I ended up with about a cup of shelled beans, so I decided to use an equal amount of each of the other beans I had on hand for the salad. I trimmed and cut green and yellow wax beans and Romano beans into 1(ish)-inch lengths, popped them into my boiling water for a minute or two, moved them to an ice bath to cool, then set them aside on a towel to dry.

blanched beans

I cooked the cranberry beans with a little bit of water, olive oil, a smashed garlic clove and a crumbled chile de arbol until they were tender, adding a bit of salt to finish them before moving them with a slotted spoon to a big mixing bowl. When the cranberry beans had cooled to about room temp, I added my blanched and cooled string beans, some thin slices of Purplette onion, and some diced fresh tomato. I wanted a really vibrant dressing for this bean salad, so I whizzed up lots of big fresh basil leaves in the mini chopper with sea salt, the juice from one big lemon and some extra virgin olive oil, then I poured it over the bean salad, tossing it well.

4 bean salad with lemon basil dressing

I’m eating this as I type, and I am loving the interplay of the crunchy string beans and creamy cranberry beans with the bright flavors of tomato, lemon and basil. This is definitely not your mama’s bland bean salad.

Summer Layers

I have been battling a dreadful summer cold for nearly a week now, and the comedy of errors that was my Monday didn’t help matters at all. Rhode Island still celebrates V-J day, and because of the holiday the buses were running on a holiday schedule. There was another bus line that could get me to my train on time, but I reached the bottom of the very steep hill we live on just in time to see it whizzing by.

A sticky mile and a half later, I was at the train station, too late for my usual train but just in the nick of time to board the next commuter rail train. I arrived in Boston, trudged through the thick air to my building, and was greeted at my desk by stacks and stacks of files, all demanding my attention. I kept my head down, focused, and made a sizable dent in my backlog by the end of the day, then headed back to South Station, dreaming of home.

I’ll spare you details of the chaotic mess that my evening commute turned into, but suffice it to say that by the time I walked into the kitchen, only comfort food would do – comfort food, and the bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol rose that had been chilling for days, awaiting the day that my sense of smell and my taste buds returned to normal.

Dinner:  August 10, 2009

So despite the heat, I turned on the oven and got to work on this summer vegetable gratin. I built many layers of colorful vegetables – thin coins of zucchini and blue potato, ripe red tomato, shaved fennel and sliced eggplant. I spread a garlicky opal basil pesto between each layer, covered the top of my baking dish (I used a loaf pan) loosely with foil, and slid it onto a baking sheet.

After about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, I removed the foil and added a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, and provencal herbs to the top. It went back into the oven until the topping was golden brown, then I pulled it out of the oven and let it rest briefly before slicing it up to serve. With a little arugula salad and that stunning rose, this meal was just what the doctor ordered.

BLTwist

green tomatoes

Since the day Michael Ruhlman announced his BLT challenge, I’ve had that classic sandwich combo on the brain, and while last night’s version was certainly not our entry into the contest, it was a way to get our BLT mojo flowing.

A really good tomato is, for me, the most important component of a BLT, and since we’re still a couple of months off from from prime tomato season here in New England, I decided to work with what we do have around now: tart green tomatoes.

While my bacon cooked on a rack in the oven (my favorite way to keep the slices flat and stackable), I sliced up my tomatoes and gave them a dunk in some beaten egg seasoned with salt and a dash or three of hot sauce. The egg-coated slices then got a coating of cornmeal before going into a hot pan to fry until golden.

When the last batch of tomatoes had been fried and the bacon was ready, I started layering: a lightly toasted slice of sourdough, a layer of bright green basil mayo (you can make your own mayo, of course, but I didn’t and the world didn’t end), then some bacon, peppery arugula (my leaf of choice for BLTs), some of the fried green tomatoes, and another mayo-spread slice of bread on top.

Dinner:  June 23, 2009

The “soup” I made to accompany our sandwiches was… not so good. (Even after thinning it with a bit of water and readjusting the seasoning, it was more like paste than something potable. Your mileage may vary.) But the marriage of BLT and fried green tomatoes was such a happy one, we barely missed our soupy side dish.