Monday, August 2, 2010

fresh peas please

One fine summer day, I turned to my six year old and asked, “Annabelle, how would you like to help prepare dinner, tonight?  We can chose the menu together, shop for ingredients in the (Pike Place) market, say ‘hello’ to our friends at Frank’s (Produce), then head home and cook.”

“I would love to,” she said earnestly, “but Mommy, you decide what we’re having.”  My daughter knows me so well. 

Rather than wing it entirely, I sought inspiration from one of my favorite cookbooks, ‘Jamie at Home – Cook Your Way to the Good Life’ by Jamie Oliver.  The book’s emphasis on eating in season makes perfect sense and recipes are organized accordingly.  Thumbing through the summer section, I landed squarely in the pea section.  A mouthwatering photo showcased fresh English peas and fava beans mashed together with mint and pecorino cheese, served on toast, bruschetta-style.  This gave me an idea.  I could create an entire menu with fresh peas as the recurring theme.  “How about fresh peas for dinner?” I asked Annabelle.

Okay.” she answered, her enthusiasm waning, “There’s just one problem: I don’t like peas.” 

“Yes you do...  You love peas.  The fresh ones are sweet and crunchy and pop in your mouth.  They come in the pod and you can shell them for me.  Would you like to be my pea sheller?”


It was settled.  We would kick off our pea extravaganza with fresh pea and fava bruschetta followed by a salad of arugula, chevre and fresh peas, and conclude with pasta and meatballs tossed with tomato basil sauce and finished with a generous sprinkling of sweet, fresh peas. 

On the subject of peas, it goes without saying, the petite, green legumes tend to get a bad rap.  Morons are ‘pea-brained’, fog is ‘pea soup’, and bad 70’s decor is oft described as ‘pea green’; not to mention the cultural stigma-  ‘Eat your peas’ was the commonly uttered mother rant long before broccoli came into fashion.  For most of us, peas originate in the freezer section of local supermarkets.  Remnants of 1950’s cuisine, they are the rogue veggie in tuna casserole, the likely sidekick alongside roast beef and mashed potatoes, the last man standing on the dinner plates of our youth. 

My twin uncles were masters of pea avoidance.  As kids, they devised a method of discreetly stockpiling their designated portions in the far recesses of their cheeks, somehow allowing the rest of the meal to pass on through.  After dinner, they casually excused themselves to the bathroom where they would spew a cache of peas into the toilet, machine gun style.   This legendary talent was revered by my brother and I, much to the chagrin of our well-meaning, pea pushing parents.

Despite her admonition to the contrary, Annabelle truly loves peas.  She eats them alongside paneer in Indian curry, slurps them in split pea soup laced with bits of ham and carrot and, given the opportunity, would endlessly devour sweet, fresh peas until, much like the girl turned blueberry in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, I fear I would have a pea for a daughter.  

In the market, Annabelle eagerly assisted Jose, at Frank’s Produce, filling one sack with peas and another with fava beans. Next, we added three bulbs of spring garlic with soft purple streaks, two sunny lemons and one bunch each of piney scented marjoram, fragrant sweet basil, invigorating mint and peppery local arugula. 

Produce in hand, we made our way to DeLaurenti where we filled our basket with a chewy ciabatta-style baguette from Macrina Bakery, mild Italian sausages from Uli’s and four cheeses, including lemony pecorino and fresh buffalo mozzarella for bruschetta, tangy chevre for the salad and a robust parmesan reggiano for finishing the pasta.

At home, Annabelle settled on the back stoop with a colander full of fresh peas and two empty bowls; one for shelled peas, the other for shells.  The evening air was deliciously warm as sun filtered through the leaves of our apple tree, creating dancing shadows on the green grass below.  Annabelle glanced over her shoulder to where I stood in the kitchen. “Mommy,” she said,  “this could be a scene from an old movie.”  She was right.  The notion of shelling peas rarely enters the vernacular of our busy lives, yet it is surprisingly pleasurable work with the promise of fresh, sweet peas as reward.

The meal was summer defined.  Fava beans and English peas were beautifully balanced with fresh mint and pecorino cheese.  Spread atop bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella and mint leaves, it was a visual treat as well as an edible one.  Arugula leaves dotted with crumbled chevre and fresh peas were a juxtaposition of texture and color.  A nest of pasta hosted simple red sauce, savory meatballs, shaved parmesan and pops of green from last minute additions of basil and sweet, fresh peas.  Best of all, each and every pea and fava bean was shelled by the lovely and talented Annabelle Claire.

When food-adoring friends came for dinner, I reprised the fresh pea theme to rave reviews.  The second time around, taking the local organic route with most ingredients gathered at the Ballard Farmers Market.  In addition, I formulated my own meatball recipe rather than using meat from good quality sausages, as the original recipe suggests.  Either works but the homemade version is worth the additional effort. 

Each of the following three recipes stand alone and do not hinge on the success of the others.  All three are meant to highlight summer’s produce and are best when made in season.

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