I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.
That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.
Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).
It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.
Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.
It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.
And now, the husband’s take…
I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.
I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.
Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.
I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.
But I’m glad I did.
The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.
The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!
Pea & Mint Crostini
1 cup shelled peas
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.
2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.
3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.