Archives for category: Peas

I’ve been wanting to try Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen ever since it opened a little over a year ago in ABC Carpet & Home in the Union Square/Flatiron neighborhood of New York.

A celebrated chef, known for his elegant, dare I use the word ‘fusion,’ of classic French techniques with the flavors of other lands—Japan, or in this case, upstate New York—Jean-Georges has opened restaurants all over this city, most of which are successful (Jean-Georges, Perry Street, Mercer Kitchen) and only one or two considered misses perhaps (Vong, Spice Market).

ABC Kitchen is his version of capturing the gastronomical zeitgeist – casual, local, seasonal, downtown, and affordable (relatively speaking), as some chefs of his ilk have done of late (Daniel Boulud’s DBGB comes to mind). I don’t normally wish for chefs to expand their restaurant empires or jump on food trends, but I do wonder what Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin or Dan Barber of Blue Hill would do with more casual offshoots of their formal flagship restaurants. Of course, I don’t want either of these upstanding chefs to dilute the strength of their focused efforts, I just fantasize about the possibility of a weekday lunch of, say, a Fin Dorset lamb sandwich with garlic scapes and micro arugula (at my imaginary Blue Hill); or yellowfin tuna, shaved chives, and olive oil layered on a toasted baguette (at make-believe Le Bernardin).

ABC Kitchen promises a changing menu based on the seasons and local produce surrounding New York. The produce is reared without exposure to synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (the culinary equivalent of television); the meat and fish are pasture-raised, or line-caught, or sustainably harvested; the dairy is free of antibiotics, from animals treated humanely and fed a free-roaming diet of grass and probably coconut water.

My first view into the restaurant was on the Sundance Channel’s Iconoclast program last year, on an episode with Jean-Georges and Hugh Jackman, where the two prepare a charity dinner at the newly opened ABC Kitchen. Furnished with wares that can be purchased at ABC Carpet & Home, including the tables, chairs, bowls, plates, stemware, flower vases, and lighting fixtures, the restaurant has a comfortable, urban farmhouse feel about it. Downtown meets Upstate. French fries meet foie gras. Fine dining meets…ABC Carpet.

My dining companion once again was my friend Sarah (of Sunday’s Roman’s adventure), in town briefly from Vancouver. I made the reservation one week prior to our lunch which, to my relief, was plenty of time to book a 1 pm table on a weekday. The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was the gracious efforts of the host and the light-hearted chattiness of the fellow who escorted us to our table (“isn’t this weather so fresh?”)

I often have difficulty deciding what to order, especially if I know I may not return to a restaurant before the menu changes. In this case indecision would be an understatement. The cocktail menu alone included an entire section on fresh-squeezed vegetable-herb juices, fresh-fruit smoothies, and homemade sodas infused with herbs and citrus. I’m surprised they weren’t serving kombucha on tap! I opted for the coconut water and Sarah chose a dry, acidic white wine.

I love a restaurant companion who enjoys sharing plates as much as I do. That way you get to try twice as many items on the menu than you would if eating separate dishes. Sarah was game, so for our first course, we ordered the sweet pea soup with carrots and mint and the roasted carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds. It was difficult neglecting the appetizer of raw diver scallops with sea beans and serrano chilies and the crab toast with lemon aioli. We’d stare at waiters passing by with dishes for other tables to assess whether we’d made good decisions. (The crab toast, I have to say, being devoured by a neighboring table, looked quite good.)

I half-expected the pea soup to arrive chilled, but bucking that trend it is served hot, a bright green purée with crunchy pesto croutons and what tasted like the zest of lime. The salad was an abundance of micro greens (that may have been grown on the restaurant’s rooftop garden) sitting atop two perfectly roasted whole carrots, with quarters of ripe avocado.

For our main courses, we chose the steamed hake with roasted maitake, asparagus and spring onions; and the asparagus and heirloom tomato sandwich on focaccia with mozzarella and what I remember as pickled onions or radishes, hot peppers, and a side of house-cut french fries dusted with fresh rosemary and salt.

We lingered over the flavors of our first course for so long that we were startled out of our oohs and ahhs by our server bringing the second course before we were done with the soup and salad. They asked to clear our first-course plates when Sarah and I simultaneously and defensively pulled them in close and asked to keep them. I couldn’t discard the three spoonfuls of soup left or the tiny nub of roasted carrot remaining on the plate!

The second course did not disappoint. The focaccia was a soft and salty foil to the heat of the peppers and pickles, the mozzarella a smooth and silky pillow for the ripe red tomatoes. Olive oil oozed over my hands as I took big bites, taking care to get each layer of the sandwich in each mouthful. The hake was flaky, moist, infused with a light vinaigrette and when eaten together with the maitake produced the perfect bite. The asparagus was diced into tiny round pieces laying underneath and on top of the hake filet.

We were entirely too full to tackle dessert but coveted our neighbor’s sundae of vanilla ice cream with caramel and popcorn. Next time. Because this is, after all, Jean-Georges downtown, so there can be a next time.

Raise your hand if you ate your peas as a child? Go on, raise ’em high and proud. Is there anyone out there? I missed thirty years of happy pea-eating – why didn’t anyone tell me?!

As a child, my mom occasionally ate peas but no one else at the table that I can remember joined her. First of all the peas, like all vegetables I laid eyes on as a kid, came out of our freezer. Mealy, tasteless, watery. I can’t really blame myself for categorically avoiding anything that was presented as a “vegetable” for the first half of my life. I imagine this is what it was like growing up in the 50s.

As you may know, the pea season, like all good seasons, is a fleeting one, and now is the perfect time to luxuriate in the green little orbs. They typically arrive at the farmer’s market in late spring and will be at their peak for the next 2-3 weeks. I couldn’t resist these on Monday when they called to me from the produce aisle at the co-op.

And as luck would have it, the little garden my landlord tends at the front of the apartment is overrun with mint at the moment. Peas and mint are a perfect combination. You could even say they go together like two peas in a…

But it would be unfair to leave out the third element in what becomes an elegant taste trifecta. It’s a cheese that ryhmes with “meta.” Remember that barrel-aged goodness I wrote about a few days ago? You see where I’m going with this? Peas – mint – feta. Served with orecchiette pasta in a creamy sauce of the melted feta, flecked with fresh mint and just-barely-cooked fresh peas. I also had some green garlic in the fridge that I sautéed before throwing in the other ingredients for added depth and flavor.

Late spring is an inspiring time to cook. Just look around, see what the farmers are hawking at the market, and if you’re lucky, see what your landlady has growing near the bottom of your stoop.

Orecchiette with peas, mint, and feta

1/2 lb orecchiette pasta (or any shape that has crevices the sauce and peas can cling to)
1-2 pounds of peas in their pods
4-5 stalks green garlic
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
handful of fresh mint
salt and pepper
olive oil

Bring a pot of water to boil adding a good dose of salt. Meanwhile, you’ve gotta get started on shelling peas! The pea pods open quite easily with a little tug, just drop the peas into a colander or bowl and discard the pods. This might take 15 minutes or so, especially if you do this slowly like me.

Add the pasta to the boiling water with a tbsp of olive oil (to prevent sticking).

Wash the green garlic well and chop the bottom part (discarding the top leafy parts) like you would a scallion. Heat a couple tbsp of olive oil in a skillet on the stove and when warm add the green garlic. Sauté for a few minutes.

As the green garlic is mellowing, crumble the feta and roughly chop the mint. Add the peas to the skillet along with 1/2 c of the pasta water. This will help steam the peas and add a nice base for a sauce. Sauté the peas for a couple of minutes, then add the cooked pasta to the skillet (make sure it’s al dente so it can absorb some of the good sauce flavors) and the crumbled feta. The feta will melt and form a sauce with the pasta cooking liquid.

At the last minute toss in the mint, add freshly ground black pepper, and salt to taste. Grate some Parmesan over the top. You can eat this dish on its own or served with a green salad would be nice.

Serves 2-3 as a main, 4-5 as a side

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