Sunday, April 11, 2010
This winter, I've become addicted to a particular blend of baby greens that I get each week at the Providence Wintertime Farmers Market. They have just the right blend of peppery heat and interesting textures that keep me coming back - week in and week out, even if I need nothing else at the market - for more. The heat source, I haven't quite determined, though one of my favorite greens for texture are the pea shoots.
A few weeks ago, I found myself talking me out of a brilliant plan to pass the driver in front of me on a two-lane, absolutely no passing zone road on my way to the market to get those greens. It was 11:02am. The market opens at 11am, and the coveted greens disappear soon after opening. Speed-walking up to the table, the greens still available and cast in a golden, halo-ish light (perhaps this is imaginary. I suppose that could be the case), I slowed down and relayed my little wanna-be drag racer journey to the market to Marita, who works the market for the baby greens farmer, Jeffrey.
"He's worked a long time on this blend," she said, nodding her head sympathetically. There was something comforting about having my Jefferey's-baby-greens-blend obsession validated. Or at least, I interpreted it as validation. That's the beauty of having a mild (ahem) obsessive disorder about food. Justification usually follows in suit, and that's a nice feature for a disorder, isn't it?
My homegrown bed of greens has just been started. Actually, it was started three weeks ago, but then the torrential rains that flooded most of southern New England came, and I thought for certain that my seeds would rot rather than sprout. Two weeks after planting, the kale and spinach sprouts poked through the earth, and this weekend, my Lolla Rossa lettuce and Swiss chard have also emerged.
Now, I haven't worked a long time on my blend, and I'm fairly certain that Jeffrey has some rare and interesting greens in his blend that I'll be lucky to ever discern, much less find the seeds to grow them myself, but today, I will be planting peas. As I told JR, "these peas are for pea shoots only. I'll plant other peas for peas somewhere else, but I must have pea shoots in my salad." Imagine saying, "I'll plant peas for peas," and having the other person understand you? It's pretty impressive, really.
When my peas for peas finally produce (yeah, say that ten times, fast), I'll be making this dish, peas in mint cream, which I have made the last two years for Easter - cheating by using frozen peas, which is perfectly okay if there isn't a fresh pea to be found. Because mint is also not yet producing in our New England garden, my Easter preparation is designed to use an entire package of supermarket mint, hence, the use of "sprigs" rather than specific cup measurements in the recipe.
Peas in Mint Cream:
serves 4 to 6
1 cup (1/2 pint) light cream
2 to 3 sprigs fresh mint
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
16 ounces peas, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator if using frozen peas
freshly ground black pepper
The leaves from 2 to 3 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped coarsely (approximately 1/4 cup)
At least an hour before preparing the peas, place the mint in a small saucepan and pour the light cream over it. Over medium-low heat, warm the cream until it is scalded, which is the point when it has just starting to steam and small bubbles can be seen around the rim of the pan, 10 to 15 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on this process, because you don't want the cream to boil, and it doesn't take but a moment of not paying attention to go from scald to boil. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mint to steep in the cream for another 30 to 45 minutes. You can make the mint cream a day before if you like, just transfer the mint and cream to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, removing it from the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before cooking the peas so that the cream isn't refrigerator cold at the point when you pour it into the pan with the peas.
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the shallot and saute until the shallot is translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the mint from the cream and discard the cooked mint. Add the peas to the pan, then pour in the cream. Cook until the cream is reduced by half and the peas are warmed through, stirring frequently, 12 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, remove the peas from the heat, then stir in the chopped mint, and serve them forth.
Estimated cost for 4 (to 6): $3.35. The cream costs $1.50 if using Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value store brand, though I can get a half pint of cream from the farmers market for $1.75 - not bad for locally-produced cream and I'm all good with spending an extra quarter to support a local business. Oh, and the local cream is super-delicious. So there's that. I've used that local farmer price in our tally so that we have some flexibility about where we buy the cream, and can still hit the $3.35 number. The olive oil costs 36-cents, the shallot should cost around a quarter. The frozen peas cost $1.29 for a 16-ounce bag (again, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value), and the mint costs $1.99 for the supermarket package. I'll bet you could get a mint seed start (the small plants in 4-inch or so pots) for 50-cents more than that, which is well worth it because you can also use your homegrown mint in lemonade, fruit salad, mint jelly, and, yeah, mojitos, all summer long. Just be sure to plant it in a container, otherwise, your garden could become a small mint farm once the mint overruns everything else. I've seen it happen. And it ain't pretty.
Dinner tonight: Spoon Roast with Potatoes and Asparagus from the garden. That's right, we have asparagus in our New England garden that's ready to be harvested and eaten. It's a bit early, but we'll take it. Estimated cost for two: $7.18. The spoon roast was $5.99 per pound on sale; I got a decent-sized one so that JR can have roast beef sandwiches for lunch this week ($5.99/pound for homemade versus $8.99/pound at the deli counter. It's still a splurge, even at the homemade price, but every once in a while one should succumb to the urge to splurge). We'll probably eat a pound total tonight - JR goes back up for seconds any time there's a roast, so it would be naive for me to assume this won't happen tonight - especially after a day spent cleaning the yard, so that's 6 bucks. The potatoes were 99-cents per pound, they'll get roasted at the same time as the beef, and I'm figuring we'll roast a lone pound, so that's a buck. I'm going for round numbers here, it seems. The asparagus is free, though we did spend $1 per plant 3 years ago. We project that we'll get 20 to 30 edible asparagus stalks per plant this season - we have 21 plants, so I'll let you do the math on that. Suffice it to say, that's a whole lot of asparagus for 21 bucks. And this goes on for years now that we have an established and producing asparagus patch. We'll probably have a bit of butter with the veggies, so let's throw in another 18-cents for two tablespoons, just to be safe. We'd normally have Jeffrey's baby greens with this meal, but with all the glee and excitement about fresh homegrown asparagus, those greens will have to wait until lunch tomorrow.