Sunday, April 14, 2013

Minted Sweet Pea Mash

There are certain culinary duos in which the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.  Fried chicken&waffles, for example, are positively divine any time of day or night.  Apple pie on its own doesn’t interest me, but pair it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and I am totally enthused.  Chocolate-plus-peanut butter is one of the joyful pleasures in life.  (Oh come on, who am I kidding?  Chocolate and almost ANYTHING are great together!)  On a less decadent but equally satisfying note, peas and mint are one of my inseparable combinations, and they join together beautifully in this Minted Sweet Pea Mash.

The recipe for this springy green mash was inspired nearly a decade ago by a fabulous bruschetta I had at Otto.  I would never have thought to bind tender baby peas and fresh mint with olive oil to make a silky puree, but I’m so glad that Mario Batali did so that he could put it on his menu.  It truly is a most delightful thing to enjoy atop grilled bread.

The only problem with the Otto version is that it’s only available on Wednesdays, for their bruschetta special changes from one day to the next.  But once I tasted that minted pea puree, I knew my craving wouldn’t be confined to Wednesdays alone.  Sometimes you simply have to take matters into your hands and recreate a favorite dish for yourself at home.

I went through a phase where I made this dish for nearly every party I threw, as it was particularly perfect for springtime gatherings and summer birthday parties.  I made it so often, I was in danger of my friends believing I was a one-trick pony with a remarkably small repertoire of party food. So I shelved it for a while and branched out with other recipes, as I didn’t want my friends thinking, “Can’t Louise serve something else besides her Marinated Goat Cheese and those Minty Peas?!”

But as the trees burst into bloom this week and I swapped out my heavy down coat for my lightweight leather jacket, I wanted to eat foods that tasted like the essence of spring.  This minted sweet pea mash was right at the top of the list, and my first bite of it was like being reunited with a dear friend.  Like going shopping in your own closet—only to gleefully rediscover a temporarily abandoned yet most beloved item of clothing—I’m so glad I went poking around in my own recipe file this week. I can guarantee that these minty peas will be making an appearance at my next party, for I've really missed them.  Once you taste them for yourself, I think you'll understand.

One Year Ago: A Spring Top Ten List

Inspired by the Wednesday bruschetta special at Otto, where they really gild the lily by topping the pea puree with a bit of crisp pancetta. I usually make mine as a vegetarian version, though I think it would be also nice with a few torn ribbons of rosy prosciutto on top of the peas.  I’ve added sautéed shallots and garlic to add more depth to the puree.  It’s great as a starter for a springtime lunch or a festive dinner party, but it also doubles (or even triples) easily for a crowd.

4 cups frozen baby peas 
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large shallots, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
A good pinch or two of crushed hot chili flakes, to taste
4 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
Several grinds of fresh black pepper, to taste
Toasted baguette slices, for serving

Cook the peas according to package directions till just tender; do not overcook.  Drain and set aside.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook for about 3 minutes till they start to soften, stirring constantly.  Add garlic and chili flakes and cook for 1 minute more; do not let the garlic turn brown.  Remove from heat.

Place the drained peas, shallot-garlic mixture, mint, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor.  Pulse several times till the peas are roughly chopped, then scrape down the sides with a spatula.  With the machine running, slowly pour in the remaining olive oil through the feed tube until a thick puree is formed.  Taste for seasoning, and scoop the puree into a small serving bowl. Garnish with additional chopped mint, if desired. I like to serve this puree while it is still slightly warm on toasted baguette slices.

Makes about 2 cups.

No comments: