Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Top of the Crop

Vegetables are starting to flow into farmers' market stalls, energizing not just the markets but our bodies as well. There's wonderfully nutritious greens--kale, broccoli rabe, chard, arugula, lettuces--and colorful roots--carrots and beets, peas of all variety. Even if you don't want to cook in this extremely hot, humid weather afflicting much of the east and west, you can still enjoy these veggies without much effort.

Snow and snap peas make wonderful substitutes for bread and crackers as a scoop for your favorite dip, especially hummus. Carrots can be quickly grated and blended with plenty of fresh parsley into the most refreshing and colorful salad: douse with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to serve. Shred kale off any thick stems and simply boil it with rotini or tube pasta, drain, douse with fresh lemon juice, good quality olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Garnish with minced green garlic and sit down to a surprisingly rich dish.

Most importantly right now, don't tell the farmer to tear off the beet or carrot tops, and don't throw away those shelling pea pods either.  These are good friends. Simply put the carrot greens in water you're boiling for rice or pasta and scoop them out when you're ready to add them. They'll magically flavor the grain, especially rice. Chop them into store-bought chicken broth too.

Beet greens are very very tasty chopped and sautéed five minutes in olive oil with a bit of diced red onion and a lot of garlic. Sauté the onion first for five minutes to soften it. Add the greens, garlic and freshly ground black pepper, stir and sauté over medium/low heat for 5-8 minutes. (You don't have to be exact.) Season with sea salt and serve. They are great with grilled  or steamed seafood. Sometimes I cut up a cooked beet or two to mix in with them for extra glorious eating. I served these a few nights ago at a dinner party beside a huge central dish of Sardinian style paella: seafood and sausage with tomatoes and Fregola instead of peas and rice.

Use those shelling pea pods to flavor your rice or pasta water like the carrot greens.  There is, in fact, a very old Italian recipe that relies on this technique. Peas with pasta in my book (available at stores and on Amazon, hint hint) Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. It really is peas with pasta and NOT the other way around. Amazingly tasty eye catching dish with no sauce!

Serves 3 (double to serve 6)
1½ lbs fresh shelling peas in the pod
2 soft lettuce leaves (red lettuce works great)
¼ tsp coarse sea salt or other salt
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley (you will need a dozen sprigs)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ cup vegetable broth
¼ tsp freshly ground or cracked black pepper¼ tsp sea salt
1cup tubettini/ditalini tiny pasta

Wash peapods carefully in cold water. Shell them, saving the pods.

Put the pods in a large saucepan or small stockpot with lettuce and cover with 1 gallon of water. Bring to a boil and add coarse salt. Cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes. You are trying to get highly flavored cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, rinse and dry the peas. Remove the leaves from the parsley sprigs and coarsely chop them. (A small food processor works as well as a cleaver.) Discard the stems.

Remove the peapods and lettuce from the boiling water, saving the water. Bring it back to a boil and put in pasta in. Cook according to package instructions, which should be about 12 minutes.

In a medium size heavy gauge saucepan or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped parsley and garlic. Sauté 1 minute. Add peas, black pepper and salt. Cover the pot and cook 5 minutes.

Add broth to the peas, cover the pot and cook over low heat about 15 minutes or until almost all the liquid has evaporated.

Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the peas. Blend well. Cook 1 minute over low heat. Add more salt and/or pepper if you wish and serve immediately in shallow bowls.

Then go buy the book so I can earn a living.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Quick Trick for Busy June

The babies are busting out all over Eastern farmers' markets as June breezes by. Wee green garlic, spring onions and potatoes smaller than a ping-pong ball dominate the stalls. And often sit there because nobody knows what to make of them. 

It shouldn't be a secret that these can be turned into delicious treats in a jiffy. Cut the top half off the garlic and onion stems, scrub the potatoes and pile them onto a foil covered baking sheet. If you don't have too many, that baking sheet can be the one in your toaster oven.
Sprinkle olive oil like dew and scatter salt like pollen. Then roast at 450º for 10 minutes. Crank up the black pepper mill to season and serve.

What you'll get are crusty skinned potatoes whose pulp melts in your mouth and sweet caramelized garlic and onions to go with them.  Optionally you can toss on some dried rosemary too. Perfect with an omelet or a piece of grilled meat. And only available right now.