Over the last two weeks, it's as if people are coming out of hibernation, and I can't shake the feeling that I'm in the Wizard of Oz, seeing the emerald city for the first time. It's that special moment when Dorothy steps out of black and white into technicolor.
I've been buying big bushels of beautiful green granny smith apples that I intend to make an apple tart out of. The problem is, they look too good to eat.
Green of all shades is everywhere, and it's about this time of year that I want to start cooking with peas and mint. Maybe it's a bit early, but on a warm day, anything with mint is refreshing. I've been making a pretty pitcher of peppermint iced tea and topping it with sprigs of mint. Poured over ice, I love the way it makes the glass sweat at the table.
My Mom used to make sun tea nearly every day during the hot, sticky Indiana summers. She'd fill a big glass jar that had a yellow plastic lid and a spout at the bottom with tea bags and water and let it bake from morning till dusk. When the sun went down, she put it on the top shelf of our fridge so we could help ourselves. I remember her drinking iced tea all day long in the blue glasses I now have in my kitchen cabinet.
It's the combination of mint and peas that makes one of my favorite spring and summer snacks. Crostini, a thin grilled toast usually made out of Italian ciabatta bread, is a great thing to serve at a moment's notice. I have them for lunch, as a light snack with a cold beer, or if I'm having people for dinner, I serve a big tray with lots of different toppings and a well-chosen cocktail. If you make a topping with an interesting combination of flavors, no one will ever know you're just serving them fancy toast.
Jamie Oliver, who inspires me in so many ways, makes several topping suggestions for crostinis in his book, Jamie's Italy. I particularly adore the pea and broad bean (fava bean in the US) puree with pecorino which I'll get to in a minute. Other great ideas are: prosciutto, figs and mint; buffalo mozzarella and chilli with basil leaves; squashed canellini beans with garlic, little heirloom grape tomatoes and chopped olives.
My mother would be proud, I believe, if she knew how obsessed I am with eating my greens. If you are too, try this from the same book: Take 3 handfuls of cavolo nero (dark green long leaves with a thick vein and little leaf curl), spinach, cabbage or swiss chard- any greens you can find at the store. Add 3 cloves of garlic to a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Add the greens and cook until tender. Squeeze out the excess water and mash the garlic. Stir together and season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and serve on top of the crostinis with a final dose of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
If you're not inspired yet to get the ciabatta out, try slicing some in larger pieces. Grill them and then rub with a garlic clove cut in half. Tear up some field mushrooms and fry with a little olive oil adding finely chopped red chilli, garlic and thyme. Finish with a little butter and a squeeze of lemon. Served atop the grilled bread with a simple green salad and a mustard vinaigrette, it's one of my very favorite suppers. Just another of Jamie's genius ideas from Jamie at Home.
The recipe below calls for broad beans which I used to buy in great big bags still in their pods. Plucking them from their soft fuzzy beds was bliss, but alas, I cannot find them in Chicago yet. I can't even find them frozen. A proper search must be started. Maybe it's not the season, although my research tells me it is. I do love broad beans in lots of dishes so I have been sad not to find them. Risotto with broad beans and gorgonzola is a creamy treat. If I don't have the fava/broad beans at home, I simply make this with peas and it's still very, very good.
The combination of the peas, beans and mint make the brightest viridescent mixture, much like mushy peas. It's hard not to be smile just looking at it. The pea green puree is balanced perfectly with the zing of lemon juice and the saltiness of the pecorino cheese. Season and taste as you go to get it just right.
Adapted from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver
1 loaf of ciabatta bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
good quality extra virgin olive oil
Grill both sides of your dry slices of ciabatta on the barbecue or in a grill pan over high heat until bread is toasted and lovely golden marks cross each slice.
While they're still hot, rub them gently with the cut side of the garlic. This step is key and adds so much flavor to any crostini. Drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil and finish with your choice of topping.
Pea and Broad Bean Puree with Pecorino
Adapted from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver
small handful of mint leaves
1 cup of peas (freshly podded preferably)
1 cup of broad beans (fava beans) (also freshly podded if you can find them)
large handful of grated pecorino or Parmesan (I prefer pecorino)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
In a pestle and mortar or a food processor, smash up the mint, peas and broad beans until they look like mushy peas. Add a large handful of freshly grated pecorino, then loosen with the extra virgin olive oil. At this point, see how loose the mixture is and add the lemon juice. You may need to add a bit more of both, but add your salt and pepper and then adjust the flavor. Most importantly, taste as you go and add more lemon juice, olive oil or cheese needed.
Smear over hot crostini, finish with some grated pecorino a few sprigs of mint.