Having my way with the fresh English peas from the market this weekend
This post has turned into a bit of a monster. It was originally going to be about making fresh pasta - and here is why. Much of the (commercial) pasta available in stores today is made with semolina - or a combination of semolina and other flours that have lost most of their naturally occurring nutrients in the milling process. My favorite, dog-eared pasta recipe - the one I've arrived at after experimenting with many batches of dough - is a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour. This dough has a lot of room for improvement on the nutrition front.
Right now I'm interested in ways to not only use whole foods in my cooking, but also to focus on using more unrefined, minimally processed, base ingredients like flour, sugar, etc. The logic being, if you use base ingredients that have been stripped of most nutrients through processing, you end up with far fewer essential nutrients overall, adding up over time. Semolina is refined durum (wheat) flour that has been stripped of the nutritious bran and germ layers. So, for this post, I was set on rewriting my master homemade pasta recipe, and playing around with the more nutritious durum flour. Trying to settle on a new master recipe without compromising taste or texture.
So, off to the farmer's market I went. This is late Saturday morning. I picked up a steamed wild mushroom bun at the new Slanted Door kiosk (best $3 you can spend), and shopped around a bit. I was looking for inspiration for a ravioli filling to go with the fresh pasta. Loads of favas, strawberries, red spring onions, salad greens, white asparagus, and spring carrots around - the selection was beautiful. One of the producers gave me a small handful of peas, straight out of the pods, and they popped crisp, sweet, and delicious in my mouth.
I bought a standard-sized brown lunch bag filled to the brim with the pea pods (English shelling peas), imagining a sweet green puree with cheese and toasted nuts as the filling for my fresh raviolis. Then I thought...what a shame to puree all of the perfect peas. So I pledged to myself to reserve a small handful of them, dunk them gingerly in a pot of boiling salted water, count to ten slowly, drain, and top with a touch of butter and a sprinkling of salt.
By the time I was done with those peas they had charmed their way into four different dishes.
-Simple, Perfect Peas with Butter and Salt
-Spring Pea slathered Crostini
-Hand-cut Chive Raviolis bursting with Sweet English Pea Puree
-A Tasty Green Tart that should've had a Different Crust
I made the pasta doughs as well, but I'm not sure I'm ready to write about them yet. Here's where I'm at. Open to suggestions as well.
Made this weekend:
Durum / all-purpose flour combination (looks like this combination is going to be the base of my new 'everyday' master recipe)
Durum / semolina dough
Semolina / all-purpose flour dough (up to this point, my current favorite 'everyday' pasta dough. It is very well-behaved)
Still on my list to try:
-all durum flour (for dried shapes)
-a 2:3 ratio of durum to APF
-a 2:3 ratio of durum to semolina
-all soft wheat flour (for super fresh delicate stuffed pastas + noodles- haven't made a non-semolina dough in quite a while)
There is a lot to say and I'm still gathering my thoughts on it. I will say, the durum / all-purpose flour recipe turned out fantastic for what I used it for, and I will include it at the end of this post.
Here are the pea recipes. The flavor of the peas is sweet and delicate - easy to overpower if you aren't careful. The theme here is: fresh shelling peas four ways....or even better - the life of a bag of peas in my kitchen on a Saturday afternoon.
Enjoy! It is pea season.
Simple, Perfect Peas with Butter and Salt
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. While the water is heating, remove the peas from their pods and place in a bowl. When the water reaches a boil, add some salt and the peas. You are just going to cook them for a very short time. Don't leave the stove. Somewhere between ten and thirty seconds. You want them just barely tender, so they still pop in your - mouth, no mushy overcooked peas please. Quickly drain. Return the peas to a bowl with a dollop of butter and a sprinkling of salt.
Spring Pea slathered Crostini
This recipe is essentially just the beginning of my ravioli filling minus the egg. I found myself slathering it on whatever crackers, toasted bread, or baguette was in the kitchen at the time, before I added the raw egg. Really beautiful and delicious.
1 standard brown paper lunch bag full of fresh English peas (still in their pods) - I'm guessing a pound or two
Squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup FRESHLY shredded parmesan
tiny pinch of cayenne
salt to taste
Quickly blanch/cook the peas per the previous recipe. After draining, puree the peas - I use a hand/immersion blender to make quick work of it. Add a generous squeeze of lemon. Add the toasted pine nuts, and puree one more time. Stir in the Parmesan, cayenne, a few pinches of lemon zest, and a few pinches of salt. Taste, and adjust for seasoning - add more salt if needed. Spread it on whatever you've got around.
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of puree.
Hand-cut Chive Raviolis bursting with Sweet English Pea Puree
Ok, so you've got your puree ready from the above recipe - now you just need to stir in an egg, and you have your ravioli filling. Next step is making the fresh pasta (and I know this is where I'm going to lose some of you). I only make pasta at home when I have absolutely nothing else at all going on that day. This way I can really take my time and not feel rushed or stressed out about it. So make a day of it, maybe invite a friend over to do it with you - it really isn't as intimidating as it sounds. You kitchen ends up looking like a flour bomb went off, but it really is fun and satisfying to eat a pasta that you put a lot of care and work into. I got a hand-crank pasta machine a few years back for Christmas, and use it all the time.
After creating the raviolis and cooking them for just a minute in boiling, salted water (until they all float) - I serve them tossed lightly with a splash of cream that has been on the stove over low heat infused with the zest of a lemon or two. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and more chopped chives.
My Well-behaved (now more nutritional) Pasta Dough
This dough is great because it is flexible, or maybe I should say adaptable. It is delicate enough to use to make fresh raviolis, and sturdy enough for dried linguine or fettucini. I often like to make lots of different kinds of pasta from one batch of dough, this recipe is great for that. It keeps fine in the refrigerator for a couple days, but double wrap it in plastic wrap and put in the freezer if you need to keep it longer.
1 cup durum wheat flour (semolina also works great, but not as nutritious)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. salt
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Handful of chives (optional - this is where you can add any herbs, spices, or other flavorings)
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about twenty times, until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto the counter, gather and gently pack it into a ball shape, and knead a four or five times - until dough is smooth and all one texture. The dough should not stick to your hands, if it does - knead in a bit more flour. Cut in half, and flatten each piece of dough into a pancake shape roughly 1-inch high. I place each piece of dough in a plastic bag to keep moist until I am ready to use it.
Follow the directions that come with your pasta machine for rolling out your dough. I cut off pieces of dough roughly two thumb-widths wide as needed to run through the machine. I keep a thick dusting of flour on the counter in front of me to make sure the pasta doesn't get too sticky as I am putting it though the rollers, I dredge the sheets through the flour when needed. Also, I keep a baking dish with about a 1/2-cup of semolina flour in it at the end of my assembly line where I drop the cut pasta in for quick toss before hanging. I've found this keeps things from sticking. There are a lot of little things you will learn as you go - a bit of practice will help you find your own tricks. The main thing is keeping your dough at the right level of moistness. Too dry - it won't run through the machine. Too wet...it gets all wrinkly and bumpy, and is hard to get through the rollers.
I roll the raviolis out to the 2nd thinnest setting, on my machine - #8.
I roll the fettucini out to the 3rd thinnest setting, on my machine - #7.
Cut the pasta into whatever shape you want. For these raviolis I used a 3-inch cookie cutter. In a small bowl mix an egg with a splash of water. Take one pasta circle, dip your finger (or a brush) in the egg mixture and lightly moisten the edge. Fill with a bit of pea mixture. Seal with another pasta circle. Try to gently press out any air bubbles and get a good seal.
To dry (unstuffed) pasta. I hang the pasta on a pasta rack (you can use a broom handle, wood hangers, whatever) until they are no longer moist. I then slowly and gingerly slide the noodles onto a baking sheet where I wrap them ever so loosely in plastic wrap (primarily to keep the noodles from sliding off). You want some air to get in there so that moisture doesn't collect around the noodles and facilitate mold. I've kept them like this for a month or two before using. Cook in boiling water.
A Tasty Green Tart that should've had a Different Crust
When you've run out of steam, and you've made your share of homemade raviolis, but you just can't stand to let the rest of that beautiful pea filling go to waste....it is time to make a tart. I had two par-baked individual-sized basic tart shells in the freezer from the last time I made tarts, so I decided to try the pea filling in them. I filled the shells generously, sprinkled them with some gruyere that I had in the refrigerator and popped them in a 400 degree oven until the crusts were golden and the filling firmed up a bit. Pulled them out - sprinkled them with a bit more cheese, a generous dose of snipped chives, and some toasted pine nuts. Delicious. I actually can't wait to try this one again, next time with some sort of nut or oat tart crust to compliment the sweetness of the peas.