Pea risotto with pancetta, pea tendrils and a luscious swirl of lemon pistachio mint pesto!
After what could be called the most dreadful winter in years for many of you, I can say most assuredly that
SPRING IS HERE!
And not a minute too soon! As a reward for suffering that brutal season, you'll find that all the lovely spring vegetables are in season now and are finding their way to the grocers' shelves. But don't hesitate, darlings, because their season is short!
Darlings, your La Diva is NOT a pea lover. The fact is, when I grew up and put my big girl panties on and moved out on my own (at only seventeen years old!), I decided that if I wanted to maintain a good healthy life, I should expand my palate and start eating a wider variety of vegetables, including the dreaded pea!
I'd grown up being force fed those wrinkled, canned peas and no matter how many times my mother served them at dinnertime, I would try to get out of eating them by sneaking them under my dish. Invariably, as mom would clear the plates from dinner, the peas would fall onto the table and so my ruse was discovered. Those awful canned peas were one of the foods I refused to eat, no matter how long mom would make me sit at the dinner table after supper!
So, when I was out in the world as a young woman and could eat any thing I wanted, I realized that maybe I should give peas another go. I bought the frozen, baby peas that guaranteed a fresher taste. Gradually, I would add them to stews and casseroles and next thing you know, I was eating peas! But, try as I might, I still couldn't suffer a big, ol' bowl of them on their own, I could only manage them mixed in with other foods.
But the FRESH SPRING PEA is different. Delicate in flavor, tender and without any mealiness, these verdant orbs just pleasantly pop in your mouth, exuding a slight sweetness. After trying the fresh peas, I was sold. But fresh peas aren't available all year, so when I saw them at the grocery the other day, I grabbed them with nary a thought as to how I'd actually cook them. I knew I'd figure out something delicious!
For inspiration, I put up a post on Facebook to gather ideas and my clever friends did not disappoint. Someone suggested "risi bisi," which is a traditional Venetian dish that was similar to the idea I'd been mulling over using the peas with pancetta and risotto. Since my three friends and I were all on the same page of ideas, I decided to make the risotto with the peas and crisped pancetta.
Another friend came up with the brilliant idea of putting the shelled pods into the risotto broth for more pea flavor. Brilliant! Still, it seemed like the dish needed a "bit of sumpin' sumpin," so I devised a sauce that would provide a flavor punch and complement the dish: lemon pistachio mint pesto. Divine! The crisped pancetta adds a bit of salty, crunch and flavor, the peas add sweetness and "pop" and the risotto was creamy and satisfying! This is a perfect one course supper that highlights the fresh peas and doesn't overpower their delicate flavor.
Baby artichoke sauteed with chicken breast, mushrooms, garlic, lemon, white wine and capers.
Baby artichokes and artichokes are another lovely Spring vegetable I look forward to. While I had mastered the art of making whole, large artichokes, usually stuffing them with bread crumbs, parmesan and prosciutto or maybe simply serving with a home made lemon mayonnaise, I'd always been a bit intimidated to make the baby artichoke and would always buy them canned. Perhaps it was my naivete that lead to my apprehension, as I made them once without par-boiling them and they came out tough and undercooked on the grill. But a quick look through my myriad cookbooks showed me how to easily process them.
First, I cut off the top, peeled off all the tough outer leaves and then cooked them until fork tender. Then I cut the baby artichokes into quarters and sauteed them along with chicken breast, mushrooms, garlic, white wine and capers and then tossed them into linguine! A hearty dish that is not too heavy, the earthiness of the mushrooms and artichokes and the briny salt hit of the capers combine to create a dinner packed with lemony flavor and a palate-pleasing texture.
Baby golden beet salad over mixed greens of baby kale, arugula and dill with burrata cheese and toasted pistachios dressed with hazelnut oil and chocolate vinegar!
GOLDEN BABY BEETS AND MIXED SPRING GREENS
Beets are another vegetable I never liked as a child and only recently learned to love them. The secret is to buy baby beets and then to roast them, which caramelizes them and releases their natural sugars. I find the older, larger beets have a more "muddy" flavor, so now I try to get the freshest baby beets possible, usually from the farmers market.
Springtime is when baby greens and lettuces come into season, and I love their tender texture and subtle flavors. A green that you would normally cook, like kale, chard or mustard greens, are delicious when grown and served as "micro" greens in salads or as garnish. They are simply young shoots of the plant picked before they are allowed to mature.
The fresh, creamy burrata cheese and golden beets are complemented by the velvety chocolate balsamic vinegar, while the toasted pistachios add crunch and go perfectly with the hazelnut oil. This is an elegant salad to start off a special dinner or just to enjoy casually, you deserve it!
Fava beans with prosciutto in campanile pasta (bell shaped pasta) with parmigiano cheese shavings and lemon zest.
Fava beans are a delight because they are so rare but also because they are so labor intensive and pricey that it makes them even more delicious when you make the effort to cook them! Like lima beans, you need to strip them of their pods, then boil them, then release them from their outer skin and THEN you can do with them what you wish! To La Diva, the bright, buttery and slightly sweet taste of a fresh fava bean epitomizes the flavors of springtime.
And because they are so labor intensive, a little can go a long way! I love the way the bright green fava pops in this plate of pasta with salty prosciutto and lemon.
Just cooked fava beans are added to baby redskin potato and green beans, all cooked until just tender and then doused in a lemon thyme mint vinaigrette while still warm!
For more interesting facts about the ancient fava bean, click HERE.
Here's a perfect dish featuring another springtime vegetable, asparagus. Quick and simple, I boiled penne pasta and while it cooked, I lightly steamed trimmed asparagus spears until just tender. Asparagus when it's cooked properly, can be delightfully delicious, but if it's overcooked, it can be stringy and slimy, so take care not to overcook!
I cut the asparagus into bite size pieces, saving the tops for the garnish. I like my penne "al dente," and tossed the hot pasta with fresh pesto and then added a half of a ball of freshly made burrata cheese! Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a good dousing of a fruity, green extra virgin olive oil were all that was needed to complete this toothsome dish.
Darlings, have you noticed how green, light and lovely all of these dishes are? They are all made with fresh produce and packed with flavor in the simplest of ways: a grating of lemon zest here, a caper there, a bit of salty cured pork is all it takes to highlight the flavors of these verdurous vegetables. Do take advantage of these seasonal veggies, especially the peas and fava beans, which are impossible to come by later in the summer.
Darlings, what are YOUR springtime faves? Do tell La Diva all about it! Ciao for now!