I hate to admit such a prejudice, but I have been a devoted pea-hater my entire life.
As far as I knew, peas were tiny, sulfurous mushy green orbs, often served along side overcooked carrots in the cafeteria lunch line. Yuck.
Peas were always something to be avoided at all costs, (like hard-boiled eggs) or at least they were until our son Will came along. In my quest to find healthy, delicious things to feed Will, I learned that peas are full of lots and lots of protein. We don’t eat a lot of meat at home, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to put more protein in our diets.
I also learned that, beyond protein, peas are full of all sorts of “good for you!” things like vitamins and minerals. As my poor husband knows, I’m a fan of putting “but-its-good-for-you!” types of things into our meals. I don’t make Will eat anything I wouldn’t eat myself so I realized it was time again to give ‘peas a chance’ (oh come on, you knew that one was coming).
Guess what I found out? There is a really, really, big difference between a freshly shelled, just barely cooked spring pea and the smelly little green things I used to find on my lunch tray.
A fresh pea, cooked for 30 seconds in boiling water than blanched bright green in an ice bath is a thing of almost neon beauty. It’s like springtime, in an edible spherical shape. Who doesn’t want to eat that?
(Will doesn’t, apparently, but that’s not the topic of today’s post)
Last week I picked up a pound of freshly shelled peas from our local wet market for the bargain price of 7 kuai, or about $1.20 to see if Chris and I might like our peas more than Will. I brought them home, washed them, blanched them and then panicked momentarily, now what?
Thank goodness for the 101 Cookbooks blog. I found a recipe for simply pureeing peas with toasted pine nuts, parmesan, a little lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper. Heidi swore it would be delicious spread on toast or eaten with a spoon.
And it was delicious, a little dense, but truly a wonderful thing to spread on tiny crackers for a big cocktail party. Emphasis on a big party. It quickly became clear to me though that for our party of 2, eating over a pound of pea puree on crackers was not going to be a viable option. I needed a more main-course vehicle for my delicious, protein-packed green paste.
Did you know though that you can turn almost anything into a pasta sauce with just a little bit of olive oil and pasta water? You can. The starch in the pasta water acts as a sort of thickener, binding everything together. It’s a neat trick when you’ve got a half hour to come up with dinner and only a little bit of oil, salt and pepper, cheese, and water at your disposal.
So, I boiled up some pasta and added a few tablespoons of olive oil to my pea puree. When the pasta was finished, I drained some of the pasta water right into my puree and whisked furiously for about 30 seconds until the mixture was smooth then I dumped in my pasta, stirred and let things cool down a bit while I washed and cut up some grape tomatos.
The result? A pasta dish that manages to be both spring-like and sticks-to-your-ribs satisfying at the same time. Perfect for early spring. The tomatoes add some needed acidic/sweet contrast to the smooth, rich sauce and brighten up the plate nicely as well.
Pine nuts and olive oil and parmesan of course don’t come fat-free (or at least not in any form you’d actually want to eat) but they’re fattening mostly in that “its good for you!” sort of way. If you are looking for a pretty healthy, protein-rich vegetarian main dish, this one is a good pick.
Fresh Pea, Parmesan, Pine nut “Pesto” over Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes
I’m absolutely terrible at writing down measurements when I’m cooking new recipes so take this as more of a guide than a true recipe.
One pound of puree should make enough sauce for 4-6 main course servings of pasta, depending on how hungry you are. The puree keeps in the fridge for at least a few days (and maybe even in the freezer but I haven’t tried that yet) so if you want to split it into two meals for two, you certainly can.
1 pound freshly shelled peas
1/2 Cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 Cup freshly grated parmesan
Juice of one lemon
salt and pepper
3-5 Tablespoons olive oil
Pasta (shells or rigatoni work well)
1/2 C to 1 and 1/2 C pasta water
2-3 Cups cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and cut in halves or quarters
1. Make fresh pea puree as per instructions on 101 Cookbooks blog (blanch 1 pound of freshly-shelled peas in hot water for approximately 1 minute and then rinse in cool water. Drain and puree with approximately 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/2 cup parmesan, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste. The mixture will be super, super thick. Thin it with a few tablespoons of olive oil if necessary.)
2. Put on a large pot of water for pasta. When water reaches a boil, add a few pinches of salt and pasta (shells work well for this but rigatoni or something similar would be equally good). Cook pasta to desired “dente-ness.”
3. While pasta is cooking, whisk pea puree in a large bowl with 3-5 tablespoons of olive oil.
4. Drain pasta, reserving a Cup or 2 of pasta water. Set pasta aside to drain
5. Starting with 1/2 Cup, add pasta water to pea puree and olive oil mixture, whisk briskly to create an emulsion, adding more pasta water until you have a sauce that coats the back of a spoon but whisks easily. Taste your sauce and add additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
6. Add noodles to sauce and stir to combine, allow mixture to cool briefly to room temperature so your tomatoes don’t cook on top of the hot pasta.
7. Portion on to plates, top with cut tomatoes and (optional) freshly grated parmesan.