Category Archives: peas

Pod and pinch

P1150636

I nearly postponed lunch last Sunday. I’d forgotten something that put the kibosh on the pottering, cooking and mild house straightening I had planned for the morning before the lunch after. A well-meaning friend (with a kitchen the size of my flat and a similarly sized ability to rustle up a lunch for twelve) suggested I made something in advance and set the dining table the night before. I nodded politely and didn’t remind her I can barely keep up with basic never mind advanced at the moment, and that I only have one table, which also functions as my desk. As I said, I nearly postponed lunch last Sunday. Then I didn’t. For which I’m glad, as it turned out to be a nice lunch.

I’d barely taken my coat off when the first guest arrived. Late and ill-prepared I should have been flustered. Come to think of it I was. But then she opened a well-chilled bottle and poured me some dark inky-red wine that fizzed and frothed as it settled in my glass. Good Lambrusco I’ve discovered, is not an oxymoron. It was crisp, bone dry and tasted of bitter cherries, blackberries and burdock, a delicious way to lift my tardy spirits. Then while I trimmed artichokes, Cameron rolled up her sleeves and started podding peas.

P1150647

It had been a while since I’d had kitchen company, cooking having been a pretty solitary pursuit lately. I was reminded how much – when I let it happen –  I love the chatter and the convivial, consuming bustle of shared kitchen enterprise. I don’t know Cameron well, but we were soon comfortable in companionable activity. It helped that she is a chef from San Francisco, capable and laid back in equal measure, a pretty perfect kitchen companion. As was the Lambrusco.

Another friend arrived and joined the podding while I sautéed curls of spring onion and fat wedges of artichoke for a spring vegetable stew. I had done a smidgen of early morning preparation, which meant the potatoes only needed boiling and the mayonnaise stirring. I abandoned plans for chickpea fritters, then while the podders progressed from peas to fave and the sun turned it’s shining up a notch, I made a fennel and orange salad (again.)

Dan and Fran arrived with more wine and salami. Kitchen mess was managed, the table set and then we ate – in no particular order – vignarola piled on bruschetta with ricotta di pecora, salami, waxy new potatoes with home-made mayonnaise, fennel and orange salad with more Lariano bread. To finish, Dan had made biscuits, superlative chocolate ones sandwiched together with dark chocolate granache. We all drank rather too much wine. It all felt comfortably chaotic, ad hoc and lovely.

P1150660

None of which has anything to do with today’s recipe! Well except the peas, which I podded alone and observed it is a task best done in company while drinking Lambrusco. The peas I podded and then cooked in much the same way as the Vignarola, the stew of spring vegetables I wrote about last week and made for the nearly postponed lunch. That is a gentle saute with some spring onion in extra virgin olive oil. Then – with the help of a glass of wine (what and who isn’t helped by a glass of wine? ) part braise /part steamy simmer which means the vegetables cook in their own juices and all the flavors: sweet and savory, grassy and buttery are kept closely.

I removed half the braised peas from the pan, reduced them to a paste with the immersion blender before returning them to rest of the peas and stirring until I had a soft, textured cream the colour of which seemed a fitting hue for a boat an owl and a pussy cat might set sail in. A generous spoonful of ricotta, a pinch of coarse salt and three grinds of black pepper and lunch was well underway.

P1150665

As I suspected, pea and ricotta cream: a gentle muddle of sweet grassy peas, savory onion and quivering ricotta is good on toast rubbed with garlic and streaked with olive oil. A pretty perfect spring antipasti in fact, especially on Tuesday while you are making farfalle pasta.

You can of course use dried farfalle (farfalle means butterflies which obviously refers to the shape). Or you could make them. Which really isn’t difficult! Believe me, I managed and although enthusiastic I’m hardly the most skilled pasta maker. Standard pasta dough, kneaded prudently and rolled thinly – notes below. Then the particularly nice bit: you cut the pasta into smallish squares – I did this by hand which meant rather idiosyncratic squares – and then you pinch.

P1150651

Once your pasta is pinched, you just need to cook it in large pan of water that is boiling and rolling around like a tempestuous sea. The water should taste like the sea too, so salt it generously. Fresh egg pasta cooks relatively quickly, keep tasting. Once the pasta is cooked but still slightly al-dente (literally translated this means to the tooth and refers to the fact the pasta still has bite) use a slotted spoon to lift your butterflies onto the pea and ricotta sauce. Turn the pasta in the sauce making sure each pinched piece is coated. Divide the pasta between two bowls and finish with a spoonful of ricotta.

Short of eating them straight from their pods while walking back from the market along the Tevere river in the sunshine, this is one of nicest ways to eat tender spring peas. As nice as vignarola, as nice even – and I can’t really believe I am saying this – as the gloriously good Venetian pea and rice soup you eat with a fork – risi e bisi. Peas and butterflies, pod and pinch.

P1150672

Farfalle con piselli e ricotta  Farfalle pasta with peas and ricotta cheese

serves 2

  • 200 g semolina or plain flour suitable for pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • salt
  • 1 kg peas in their pods
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large or 4 small spring onions
  • a  small glass of dry white wine
  • 200 g ricotta (ideally sheep’s milk ricotta) plus more for serving
  • freshly ground black pepper.

Make the pasta.

Make a mound of flour on the work surface and scoop a deep hollow in the center. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Break the eggs into the hollow and then using your fingers beak the yolks and start working the egg into the flour. Bring the dough together until you have a smoothly integrated mixture. Knead the dough for a full eight minutes by which time it should be smooth and soft as putty.

Cut the ball of pasta into 6 pieces (the general rule is the number of pieces should be 3 times the number of eggs. So 2 eggs = 6 pieces). Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Set the pasta machine to the widest setting. Flatten one of the pieces of dough by pummeling it with your hands and then run it through the machine. Fold the pasta as you would an envelope by bringing the two ends over each other and run it through the machine again. Repeat with the other 5 pieces. Close the gap in the rollers down by one notch and run the pasta pieces through one by one. Continue thinning the pieces progressively closing down the notches one by one until the pasta is as thin as you want it.

Using a sharp knife or pasta cutter, cut the pasta into 1 1/2″ by 1 1/2″ squares and pinch (hard) in middle of the square, squeezing the top and bottom together so you have a butterfly / bow tie.

Make the sauce

Pod the peas. Peel and finely slice the spring onion. Warm the olive oil  heavy bottomed saute pan or enamelled cast iron pot. Saute the sliced onion over a medium heat until it is soft and translucent. Add the peas, stir, add the wine and then let the peas cook for a few minutes or until they are tender. Older, larger peas will take longer.

Remove half the pea mixture, puree with an immersion blender and return to the pan. Season the mixture generously with salt and black pepper. Add the ricotta and stir until you have a pale, textured cream.

Cook the farfalle in well-salted fast boiling water. It will take about 6 minutes. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to lift the pasta from the water and onto the sauce. Stir, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if the sauce seems a little stiff.

Serve immediately with another spoonful of ricotta on top and freshly grated parmesan for those wish.

P1150683

44 Comments

Filed under pasta and rice, peas, ricotta, spring recipes, vegetables

Rather like peas.

Rather like fresh pea and asparagus season, my stay back here at via Mastro Giorgio 81 will be brief. In both cases: green spring vegetables and Rachel, brevity is best. Best for the vegetables because in a world where production and marketing of food has gone mad, at a time when we’re bamboozled by infinite year-round choice, seasonal food is sanity, a joy to be anticipated, relished and then missed. Until next year that is. Seasonal peas in their pods and asparagus are so nice because they’re just that, seasonal. Brevity is best for me because however important it was to come back; to sort through things, talk, divide and try to forge a new kind of relationship with Vincenzo, however reassuring it feels to be back here in a house I love, I must, we both must, move on.

I don’t intend to move on very far though, in a physical sense that is. I’ve decided to look for a new place here in Testaccio, the quarter of Rome I know and love, the wedge-of parmesan-shaped rione XX tucked between the Tevere river, Aventine hill and the southern most section of the Aurelian wall, the quarter I wandered into over 6 years ago with about 20 words of Italian, one telephone number and no fixed plans. Actually Vincenzo and I have decided together that I’ll stay here in Testaccio, agreeing that it’s big enough for the both of us. We’ve discussed the possibility of a John Wayne sized showdown at some point, possibly in the market, weapons: a selection of underripe and overripe fruit and veg, but have concluded this risk is worthwhile. Vincenzo is stupendous.

So let’s get down to business. I have, hardly surprisingly, been extremely happy and over excited – irritatingly so was one observation –  to be back living next to Testaccio market. After a very emotional reunion with my fruttivendoli Vincenzo and Rita, catching-up of the vegetable kind was embarked upon. I settled back into the kitchen with the always reliable courgette/zucchini carbonara and large pan of spring minestrone, before turning my attention to the new arrivals; peas and the first, plump asparagus.

The first kilo of peas was eaten just so on the way back from the market and while cooking the carbonara – straight from the paper bag, peas flicked from pods into my big mouth. Later the same day I went to supper with my friends Cinzia and Ettore and their kids, my favourite students, Antonio and Lucia. Cinzia served a big plate of fresh peas alongside some olives and cheese as an easy communal starter. It was a happy crashing of hands and podding of peas as Cinzia prepared the lamb. I’ll be borrowing this idea. The first bunch of asparagus was steamed until tender and eaten with olive oil, Roscioli bread and pecorino.

The second kilo of peas and second bunch of fat asparagus were destined for pasta, a spring affair, my interpretation of a lunch made for me early last week: farfalle con piselli e asparagi.

It’s all extremely simple. You pod your peas and steam the asparagus until tender but still firm, You could boil the asparagus I suppose, but I always wonder what you lose into the rolling water. You gently saute the podded peas and steamed, sliced asparagus in olive oil before adding a little white wine or water, a good pinch of salt and letting the peas and asparagus bubble away half covered, until tender and just starting to collapse.

Super-al-dente vegetable fans should look away now, for this particular recipe – or idea really – the peas and asparagus are cooked until very soft and just starting to fall apart – you give them a hand by pressing them gently against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Gasp and wince from Super-al-dente vegetable fans. Let me reassure you, you’re not trying to murder the vegetables, nor over-cook them into a murky brown mush (I am a traumatized victim of English school dining rooms in the 70’s remember, I know how bad it can be) you’re just breaking things up a bit, creating a slight creaminess and softness which will coat the pasta and bring things together.

You can add little more olive oil to the peas and asparagus along with a handful of finely chopped parsley or some ripped basil if you like. You should taste and check for salt. You will have a deliciously sweet, tender, oily, green muddle of peas and asparagus . I would happily eat a plate of this just so with a hunk of bread and lump of pecorino Romano.

You cook some Farfalle pasta – the butterfly / bow ties work beautifully here – and add it to the peas and asparagus along with a spoonful of the cloudy pasta cooking water to loosen things up. You could also add a big blob of ricotta at this point – I have plans to do this tomorrow so will update here accordingly. Serve topped with a little heap of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino and a grind of black pepper.

It’s nice to be back at my table with my favourite napkin, the one I borrowed from a restaurant in Trastevere (after a terrible meal I hasten to add! Not that a terrible meal justifies my criminal impulses.) This is my idea of a pretty perfect early spring lunch, well one of them at least, I have many. It’s delicate, fresh, simple. The gentle braising brings out the sweetness and softens the edges of three ingredients that although beautiful together might make for a rather fragmented dish if cooked too quickly, cooking them in this way ensures they come together into a satisfying, nourishing, rounded whole, A very good way to enjoy produce (and a kitchen) that won’t be around for long.

I am looking forward to experimenting around this idea; wild garlic, spring onions, a little finely chopped prosciutto, that big blob of ricotta…

Farfalle con asparagi e piselli

serves 4

  • 1kg fresh peas in pods (which will yield about 300g when podded)
  • bunch of asparagus
  • 60ml/2 floz olive oil
  • 1ooml dry white wine
  • salt
  • some finely chopped parsely or a few ripped basil leaves
  • another 30ml olive oil
  • 450g farfalle pasta
  • freshly grated parmesan/ pecorino

Pod your peas. Cut away the tough woody end of the asparagus – how much you trim will depend on the thickness and variety of asparagus.

Steam / boil asparagus over/ in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 6 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Using a slotted spoon remove the asparagus from the pan and cut into 2″ pieces.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil in preparation for the pasta.

Warm the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the peas and a pinch of salt, stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the asparagus pieces, stir, add the wine and allow the vegetables to bubble away. half covered, for 12 minutes. Stir every now and then and gently press the veg against the sides of the pan with a wooden spoon so they break up gently. Pull the vegetables from the heat and add another glug of olive oil, the finely chopped parsley or basil and stir. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.

Put the pasta in the water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta – reserving a little of the cooking water. Mix the pasta with the peas and asparagus, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen everything. Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino and a good grind of black pepper.
I have been really touched and sustained by your kind comments and messages over the last couple of months. I wish I could steal green and white checked napkins for each and every one of you to say thank you. But I won’t, as I fear that might result in a large fine, expulsion from Italy or prison.
I joke because otherwise I’d go mad. I really just want to say thank you.

31 Comments

Filed under food, pasta and rice, peas, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, vegetables