Hacked!-Chef of Steel (aka CSA Week #1)

Sigh-First Things First:

Congratulations to the Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. They fought for every goal, and they never stopped fighting until it was done. Most admirable, and most impressive. Patrick Kane, if you have enjoyed your stay in the lovely city of Boston, consider making it your new permanent home. I’ll make cupcakes. You can even keep your mullet.

That said, I am so proud of my Boston Bruins, who gave the series all they had. They just didn’t have enough. October will be here before we know it, and the slate will be clean. Go B’s!!

Now then, let’s get on with the food, shall we?

Last week our CSA season began, and the first pickup was pretty bountiful for the middle of June in New Hampshire.

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So, here we have two heads of lettuce, a bag of baby salad greens, a bunch of kale, a bunch of radishes, a bunch of spring onions, a few sprigs of basil, and 2 pounds!! of freshly picked (by me) green peas. Clearly the star of this show, the “secret ingredient”, if you will, is the wonderful, short-seasoned, fresh green peas. If you’ve been reading this blog for at least a year, you know how I feel about fresh peas. Get them while you can, freshly picked only, and eat them as fast as you can, before they turn all starchy and start giving peas a bad name.

I got to thinking about this CSA “basket”, and saw a great meal right before my eyes. I was able to incorporate all the items in my CSA pickup into that evening’s dinner, with a little help from my own pantry, and a little advice from Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver.

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Here you have a take on the Venetian dish Risi e Bisi, which I will call Barley e Bisi, because the Italian word for barley is orzo, and that would just be confusing. I sauteed finely diced pancetta until well browned, added some minced spring onion, allowed it to soften, added pearled barley I had in the pantry (no rice! who doesn’t have rice? me, that’s who), stirred to coat with the lovely pan drippings, then poured in pea pod broth. Pea Pod Broth? Who knew? Nigella and Jamie, that’s who.

While combing cookbooks for just the perfect way to use our first fresh peas of the season, I discovered the technique of simmering the empty pea pods in a pot of water to get a cooking broth. I only had time to simmer for about an hour, but the broth was still flavored of sweet peas, light and perfect for the barley.

I ended up with enough pea pod broth left to braise some of the greens, so I finely chopped lettuce and kale, and just left the baby greens as they were, tossed them all together with some olive oil, dropped them into a hot saute pan, tossed them with tongs to wilt them down a bit, then poured in the pea broth just to cover. Cooked lettuce? It was a first for me, but not unheard of in the food world-there are plenty of recipes for cooking lettuce, so I knew it would work. All they needed was a little salt at the end, and a little acid, and that’s when I decided to create a little pickled salad to top the greens.

I minced some radishes, and the green tops of the onions, and mixed them with white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and let all that sit together until it was time to plate the dish. Near the end of cooking time, I stirred the peas and a big handful of grated Parmesan cheese into the barley, a bit of salt and pepper, and just allowed the peas to cook to tenderness, and the cheese to melt and disappear into the barley. The Barley e Bisi is finished with some finely sliced ribbons (chiffonade) of basil.

The barley dish was hearty and earthy, the peas sweet and the pancetta and cheese salty, a true comfort food. The braised greens carried just a hint of the pea flavor, and the salad added just the right amount of acidity to keep the meal from being too heavy.

I will be picking up my CSA share today. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll be cooking next. See you soon, somewhere on down the Road.

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