Saturday, April 11, 2009

Elixir of Fresh Peas and Radish Butter Sandwiches

Spring at the farmer's market is in full swing. The stalls were overflowing with strawberries, baby lettuce, asparagus, spring onions, green garlic, fava beans, radishes and english peas. The season for english peas is so short, so I couldn't pass them up. Aside from being delicious, they also provide great entertainment for a 3 year old who always insists on helping.

Don't get me wrong. I love that Ella is interested in food and cooking. It's just that most of the time her helping involves much more mess or adding ingredients to the wrong dishes. A while back I was multitasking, making a pasta sauce for dinner and some lemon curd for a dessert. The pasta sauce was cooking, and I had my measuring cup full of lemon juice for the curd. I turned around to grab a spoon out of a drawer and I heard Ella say "Look, I did it!" She had poured the whole measuring cup full of lemon juice into the pasta sauce! She was standing there proudly holding the empty measuring cup with a big smile on her face. Oh, the adventures of cooking with a toddler...

So in addition to the peas, I also bought some beautiful spring onions. They are rather elegant looking, dare I say sexy. And the radishes were beautiful shades of pastel, irresistible. I've recently fallen in love with radishes, smearing them with butter and sprinkling with sea salt. But the idea of a radish butter to smear on bread sounded like the perfect accompaniment for a simple pea soup.

Elixir of Fresh Peas
(adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison)

I love the name of this soup. It conjures up the image of an alchemist stirring unknown ingredients in a cauldron to produce a prized liquid. And I would say that this soup could be considered just that. It is like Spring in a spoonful. It takes a bit of time to shell the peas, but once that is done, the soup comes together quickly. It tastes like the essence of fresh peas. The addition of a little truffle oil at the end adds an earthy complexity that compliments the sweetness of the peas beautifully.

1 bunch scallions or 2 small leeks, thinly sliced
5 large parsley stems with leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds english peas
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced spring onion or young leek
1/2 teaspoon sugar
truffle oil

To make the stock, bring 1 quart water to a boil. As it's heating, add the scallions, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add about 3 cups of pea pods as you shell them. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain.

Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the sliced onion. Cook over medium heat for about a minute, then add 1/2 cup of the stock so that the onion stews without browning. After 4-5 minutes, add the peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the sugar. Pour in 2 1/2 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes, or until the peas are soft and cooked through, larger peas may take a bit longer.

Transfer the soup to a blender. Drape a towel over the lid and give a few short pulses to make sure it won't splatter. Then puree at high speed for 1 minute. Pour into soup bowls and serve immediately, adding a few drops of the truffle oil to each bowl.

4-6 servings.

Radish Butter for Radish Sandwiches
(adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison)

6 small to medium radishes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
sea salt

Wash and trim the radishes and chop in half or quarters. If the leaves are tender and fresh, set a dozen or so aside, stems removed. Chop the leaves. There should be about 1/2 cup.

Add the butter, radishes, lemon zest and a pinch of sea salt to a mini food processor and process until the radishes are finely chopped and a sort of paste has formed. Stir in the radish leaves. Spread on slices of crusty baguette and serve.

makes 1/2 cup

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rhubarb And Strawberry Compote: Oh The Possibilities

I was in my twenties before I ever tasted rhubarb. My family never made anything with it. In fact, I distinctly remember my mother saying that she didn't like it. It was stringy. It's funny how your parent's food prejudices transfer to you. And by funny, I mean how sad and what a waste of twenty some odd years without rhubarb.

I have spent the past 10 springs eagerly awaiting rhubarb's arrival at the market. I bought my first rhubarb of this season last week. We were making dinner with the family of one of Louis' students, and I wanted to make a pavlova with a rhubarb and strawberry compote. It was delicious. There is something so luxurious about pavlova. Meringues are partially baked until the outer shell is crisp, but the interior remains marshmallowy. Pavlova are often topped with whipped cream and berries or berry sauce. There is a good tutorial on making pavlova here. The tartness of the rhubarb complements the sweet meringue and cream beautifully.

There was plenty of compote leftover, so I also used it to make a rhubarb and strawberry shortcake. I made some cornmeal scones, sliced in half, slathered on some whipped cream and rhubarb and strawberry compote. Et voila, rhubarb and strawberry shortcake.

The compote is so easy and really versatile. I've used it for pavlova, shortcake and layered it with coconut rice pudding for a supper comforting parfait. The possibilities are utterly endless, as long as something creamy is involved. OK, now I'm reminded why the last 10 pounds of baby weight still hasn't come off! Although, can it really be considered baby weight after 3 years...

Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote
Half of the rhubarb and the strawberries are added near the end of cooking so that they remain whole and give the compote a bit of texture. The rhubarb should be soft but not falling apart.

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1 inch lengths
1 cup sugar
1 pint of strawberries quartered
1/2 vanilla bean

Put half of the rhubarb into a medium sized saucepan with the sugar. Slice the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds into the pan with the rhubarb and sugar, and add the vanilla pod. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover the pan and cook the rhubarb for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. The rhubarb should be completely soft and starting to break down. Add the rest of the rhubarb to the pan, cover and cook another 3-5 minutes. Add the strawberries and cook uncovered for 2 more minutes. Transfer the compote to a bowl and cool. Store covered in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

makes about 2 1/2 cups (enough for a couple of different uses)

Coconut Rice Pudding

The coconut flavor in this pudding comes from coconut milk. Make sure that you are using the unsweetened stuff often used in Thai cooking. The pudding is delicious served hot or cold. I let mine sit in the refrigerator overnight and folded some whipped cream into it just before serving to give it an airy texture.

2 14 ounce cans light unsweetened coconut milk
1 14 ounce can regular unsweetened coconut milk
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup arborio rice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine all coconut milk, sugar ,rice and 3/4 teaspoon salt in heavy large saucepan. If using vanilla bean, scrape in seeds from bean and add bean to saucepan. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust heat so that mixture is barely simmering. Cover partially and cook until the pudding is thickened to the consistency of loose oatmeal, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan frequently, 30-45 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean, if using, or stir in vanilla extract.

Serve warm or cold.

makes 10 servings of about 3/4 cup .