11 July 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: The Cook and the Pea Redux

CHIAVARI, Italy - Long before I decided to move to Italy I worked as a cook at the Syracuse Hotel, in Syracuse, New York. The Chef, who was from Switzerland, had been trained in Europe and had worked in some pretty impressive restaurants. He was delighted to have me in the kitchen for unlike the rest of the staff, almost all ex-military cooks whose culinary training consisted of a Mess sergeant telling them to cook whatever they were cooking until it was dead, real dead, I actually knew a little bit about food. And I was interested in learning more.  
 It's All About the Peas
Unfortunately the Chef and I didn’t work together very often. He did volume cooking for banquets and weddings which required massive amounts of food cooked in pots that were bigger than my bathtub and I was assigned lunch duty at one of the hotel restaurants, and chief food organizer for the hotel’s Sunday brunch. 

Lunch was a lot of work but preparing brunch was fun. On Sunday mornings I would go into the giant walk in coolers and see what was left over from the banquets and events that had been held during the week to see the leftovers looked like. Whatever was in there was what I had to use for the brunch table, but first it needed to be transformed into “new” food. It was a fascinating journey because there were always new and interesting foods, things I had never seen before, like hearts of palm, to experiment with.
 Just Defrost, Don't Cook
What I found on one auspicious day was a tray of hollowed out fresh tomatoes that had been filled with something smooth and green. I tasted it. Puree of peas most certainly, but there was also something else, something I couldn’t identify but made it very, but very delicious. I couldn’t wait to see the Chef and ask him what the other ingredient or ingredients were.

“Calves brains,” he said when I finally caught up with him. “It’s a puree of peas with calves brains.” 

Oh yuck!
 It's All About the Peas

That kind of put a damper on my love affair with pea puree that is until last summer when I decided it was time to try it again. After a bit of thinking I came up with a simple version that is actually quite delicious. Not as delicious as the puree in the Chef’s stuffed tomatoes, but delicious enough that my friend Gary took the recipe home and made it for Chris, his significant other. It got a thumbs up.

As with many of my recipes there are no exact measurements, so you'll have to use your own best judgement.
Pea Puree Soup

Bag of tiny frozen peas (not defrosted)
1 bouillon cube (vegetable or regular)
1/8th  teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
Boiling water

Dissolve the bouillon cube in the boiling water. When dissolved, turn off the heat and add the bag of frozen peas. There should be enough water to cover the frozen peas. Let them sit for a minute or two, stir and taste a pea to make sure they are defrosted but not cooked.

When the peas are defrosted put them, along with a small amount of broth into a blender and puree on medium speed until perfectly smooth. The soup should be thick, but pourable. Add the fresh lemon juice and stir. Transfer to a glass pitcher and cover. Let cool. This soup is best served cold. 
 Lif is Just a Bowl of Peas
In Chef Thomas Keller’s best selling cookbook “The French Laundry” there is a pea puree soup similar to mine except I don’t think he adds lemon or lime juice but what he does add is a few drops of white truffle oil just before serving. He also serves the soup with cheese crisps, aka fricos (see June 9 blog http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.com/2011/06/auntie-pasta-northern-fried-chicken.html 

This puree would also be good under a piece of salmon or, if you are feeling adventuresome, carefully clean poach and puree a small amount of calves brains, combine them with the peas and pipe the mix into hollowed out tomatoes. Chill and serve.

This article was first published on this blog on 25 August 2011

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