Monday, July 31, 2017

Quick & Easy Pickles

Today, I introduce to you a cure for summer vegetable anxiety: quick and easy homemade pickles. Despite the fact that I consume more vegetables than anyone I know, I cannot keep up with all the veggies I’ve been buying at the farmers market. Peppers, squash, okra, fennel, zucchini, beets, much is in season right now, and though I try to gather only what I'll eat for the week, I'm so tickled by all of the out-of-the-box heirloom varieties that I end up buying triple the amount I set out to. I'm sorry, but who can resist purple carrots, avocado zucchini, and yellow cucumbers!? Not this girl. 

Now, what is an overly-eager vegetable splurger to do in this situation? I marvel at the idea of making preserves— peeling open a jar of home-canned tomatoes in the dead of winter for a delicious flashback to summer—but in true New Yorker fashion, I have no patience and no storage space. If I'm going to pickle or preserve, it's gotta work at my speed and be ready to eat by the next day. Enter Quick & Easy Pickles.

Sensationally vinegary with just the right amount of sweet and salty, these pickles are a cinch to whip up, requiring 30 minutes of pickling time and lasting for at least 2 weeks. You can eat them with anything and everything: on top of sandwiches, mixed into salads, a kimchi substitute in a homemade rice or grain bowl. They are virtually giardiniera in the fast lane—that lovely mix of antipasto vegetables you see sometimes at Italian restaurants. Fittingly, giardiniera translates to "garden" in English; the method was traditionally used to preserve prolific homegrown vegetables.

So back to those nonconformist heirloom veggies—what a perfect place to showcase those vibrant purple, yellow and orange hues! I urge you to seek out the craziest-colored produce you can find for this sprightly relish. Purple cauliflower is definitely up for my next batch.

Quick & Easy Pickles (from Nutrition Action newsletter)

Enough thinly sliced vegetables to fill 1 pint-sized Mason jar (16 oz), tightly packed (try onion, carrot, fennel, cucumber, cauliflower, pepper)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp pickling spices

Bring vinegar, salt, sugar, pickling spices and ¾ cup water to boil. Pour over the vegetables to cover. Chill for at least half an hour before serving.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Fusilli with Pea Pesto

Peas, please! I have a strange obsession with peas. English peas, shelling peas, sugar snap peas, you name it—I find all peas as delightful as a chocolate and vanilla swirled soft-serve ice cream cone on a hot summer day. I keep them year round in the freezer, where they require frequent restocking—once I start on those tiny frozen sweet pops of flavor, I just can’t stop.

Once upon a time, peas were synonymous with institutionalized, terrible settings like hospitals and
nursing homes. Here, I think of the dulled, sickly hue of canned peas slopped unceremoniously onto a cafeteria tray: “Maude picked at her meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes, and peas with repugnance as her IV dripped in the background.” But peas—as my father says of Pittsburgh— are undergoing a renaissance. I’ve seen them smashed alongside avocado in swanky guacamoles, and taking center stage in all sorts of creative pestos. A long overdue recognition, as these pint-sized pod-dwellers have been enhancing my pastas, stir fries, salads and sauces for years. And what do you know—tis the season for local peas. Let us shell with abandon!

The following recipe is for Fusilli with Pea Pesto. I will say right now that neither hubby nor I are basil pesto enthusiasts, but we loved this recipe. While I find basil pesto a bit too grassy and harsh, this pea pesto was sweet, richly flavored and smooth, totally dulcet and the perfect mild, hot-summer-night dressing to a lazy pasta bowl. In fact, I first made this pesto on one of those unbearably humid summer evenings, and I didn’t even make the pesto from scratch—just picked up a container from Whole Foods (I love how they add pepitas) and blended some fresh peas right in. The pasta was a one-pot affair, I added halved cherry tomatoes and canned chickpeas to the boiling water just a few minutes before straining. I’m providing the cheat-recipe below, but Smitten Kitchen makes a lovely from-scratch version here.

The result was sheer perfection: a 15-minute dinner as satisfying as it is summerish. If you have access to a local farmers market, do take the time to go pick out your peas fresh—the sorting process is enjoyably tactile and almost cathartic (do you exercise to relieve stress? No, I pick through and shell peas) and the local pods are unequivocally worth it.

Fusilli with Pea Pesto
Serves 4

6 oz basil pesto (I like Whole Foods version with pepitas, or make from scratch)
1½ cups fresh peas (from approximately 1½ pounds peas in pods)
¾ cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
12 oz fusilli pasta (I used Norwich Meadow Farm jerusalem artichoke fusilli, which is fantastic)
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Cook the peas. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil, add peas and cook for 2 minutes, then drain and add to the ice water. Drain again. 

2. In a large bowl, combine the prepared pesto and cooked peas. Use an immersion blender to blend uniformly. (Alternatively, use a blender). It should be very thick, as you'll add liquid later.

3. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. 2-3 minutes before draining, add grape tomatoes and chickpeas to the pot. Reserve about 2 cups pasta cooking water, then drain and return pasta, tomatoes, and chickpeas to pot. Over moderate heat, toss contents with pesto and as much reserved pasta water as needed to smooth and distribute pesto. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve immediately, topped with fresh Parmesan.