The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Main Course

Minty Pea Pesto

There are so many things to love about June.

There are the long days of bright sunshine to spend laying in a hammock with a book or swimming in a lake or taking long meandering walks. There are the warm rains that make everything smell fresh and the passing thunderstorms to watch from the porch when the rain comes down in torrents.

There are the evenings that seem to stretch on forever, sitting outside with a glass of wine watching the twilight settle down. There are the fireflies at dusk.

There  is the perfume of a thousand different flowers carried on the breeze. There are irises and roses to admire, elder flowers to simmer in pots full of lemon and lime zest for elderflower cordial. Peonies to place in old glass mason jars and set on the table.

There are strawberries – juicy and crimson through and through – and rhubarb that is fragrant and tart and lovely. There are tender young lettuces and spicy radishes to crunch into, peas so sweet you could eat them by the handful.

There are friends who come to visit and friends to go and see.

There is the scent of cut grass and the hum of lawnmowers in the distance. There is riding in the car with all the windows down. Cold glasses of lemonade that taste so amazingly good and summer dresses that are cool and airy and make one feel pretty.

And there are the meals eaten outside – the picnics, the backyard barbecues, the lunches in the leafy shade and the late late dinners on the porch when the sun is going down and the fireflies and starting to twinkle. I would eat every meal out-of-doors this month if I could. Everything tastes better when it is eaten under open sky with the wind in your hair and the birds singing all around you. It really does.

Because I love the opportunity to bask in the gentleness of June as often and as long as I can, I try to make meals that are light and fresh,  intended to be eaten slowly, nonchalantly, lazily – designed more as an accompaniment to being outdoors than as the sole purpose.  I put out bowls of salad from the garden and let people make their own.  I make pesto with all of the wonderful herbs coming up in the garden to slather on crusty pieces of bread with fat slices of mozzarella or fresh tart goats cheese to crumble. Bowls of fresh strawberries with lightly whipped cream for dipping them in. All the sorts of things that taste exactly of June.

This is a pesto I made the other day using fresh peas – sweet and tender and wonderful – and mint from the garden. It is refreshing and light and just the thing for a warm and hazy day that requires something light. I served it with my favorite oatcakes baked into wedges, fresh mesclun greens from the garden and a handful of hot peppery radishes.

Minty Pea Pesto

Serves 4

  • 2.5 pounds peas in their pods – or about 1 pound freshly shelled peas  (you can use frozen in a pinch, but it won’t be nearly as good!)
  • 1 small bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed from stems
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmesan (optional)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a good pinch each of salt and black pepper

Place the peas, pinenuts, garlic and mint leaves into a food processor with a pinch of salt and about half the olive oil. Pulse until the peas are broken up but still have some chunk and texture to them. Add the cheese, lemon juice, another pinch of salt and black pepper and pulse again, drizzling in more olive oil as needed until you have the consistency you want – it should be about the consistency of a thick hummus, with slightly more texture to it.

Check for salt and pepper and acidity, adding more of each as you see fit.

Serve with toasted crusty bread, oat cakes or a crisp, hearty cracker. Torn fresh mozzarella would be a good addition, along with a nice fresh salad – to make this more of a meal.

Warm salad for a chilly spring day

I can’t explain to you how this happened, but somehow, April and March have switched places. March, normally drizzly and cold and still struggling to escape the grasp of winter, was full of warm days with bright sunshine – some days that were even positively hot and summery. Grass grew and leaves unfurled, plants sprouted, flowers bloomed. Rather than anxiously awaiting the appearance of those first tender little dandelion leaves and the first sweet tasting wild ramps as I usually am in March – I was past all that before it even began, thinking it must be about time for strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus. It was eerie.

But now that we are moving into April, it is for all respects, March again (or March as it should’ve been). Each day is as cold and overcast as the day before. Snow flakes fall and sometimes threaten to stay around like unwanted house guests. Warm weather seems distinctly out of one’s grasp. The very thought that in March I was wearing sandals and summer dresses, that we ate crisp salads every day out in the sunshine, and that – dare I say it, I was sometimes even hot and near to cursing the warmth – seems like a dream that could not possibly have happened. Those thoughts are more like visions of the future than they should be memories held under the domain of March. It seems I have gone backwards in time rather than forwards.

But it is back to cool and careful spring again, so here we are. Doesn’t it seem like all those plants who came rushing out of their shells in that summery sunshine are now frozen in mid-step, holding their breath and hoping that winter won’t see them – won’t know how easily they were seduced by the warm caress of spring? I feel a little like them too. I can’t seem to go back to the idea of my winter self – but just the same I’m not quite ready for all the crisp radish and fresh mint that I was craving in that early spring heat. I need something half way between.

This salad embraces that idea I think – lots of vibrant vegetables barely wilted so they retain a bit of bite – smothered in a warm garlic and chile infused oil with earthy olives, tempeh and caramelized onions tucked in to keep one grounded and not sprouting out too prematurely. The top gets a little breath of freshness though – a hint of the bright sunshine and warm days to come – with a little lemon zest. The best part is that this salad utilizes one of the very first spring wild harvests to come to the table – little tender baby dandelion leaves – sweet and bitter both. The ability, after months of cold and snow and brown parched earth, to walk out and eat something growing right out the back door has always felt like a miracle to me, just in the way that warm breezes, bird songs and all the other forgotten spring treasures do when winter begins its retreat.

You’ll notice that many of the things growing this time of year have a hint of bitterness to them. Bitterness awakens the digestive tract and helps to move out stagnation – so whether the plants do this purposely for us or not I can’t say – but there could be no flavor more perfectly suited for adapting us to spring. I wrote an entire article on just how imperative bitterness is to our health that you can read here if you like. Anyhow, if you haven’t graced your palate with this neglected flavor before, I urge you try it now on these cold spring days, when it could never be better suited. It satisfies deeply, like it were nourishing you to the very depths of your roots.

I hope you have a delightful Easter – I like to think about it being a celebration of re-birth in the widest sense – a celebration for spring. In some ways, I’m glad that the cold has come back for a little while yet, because it really emphasizes the miraculous tenacity of those first spring flowers, of those tender little green shoots emerging from the earth.

A Warm Salad of Bitter Greens, Broccolini and Tempeh with Garlic Oil

Adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s A Year in my Kitchen. Use wild dandelion greens if you have access to them, if not organically cultivated dandelion greens can usually be found in most well-stocked grocery stores.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of sugar, salt and black pepper
  • 1 bunch broccolini
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • a few good handfuls of dandelion leaves
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the tempeh:

  • 8 oz tempeh, sliced into thin rectangular strips
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons tamari, or to taste

For the garlic oil:

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Start by preparing the garlic oil. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan and then add the garlic and chili. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then turn off the heat. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using. You can re-heat just before serving.

While the oil is infusing, prepare your onions. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the balsamic vinegar, the pinch of sugar, salt and pepper, and stir well. Let the onions cook for a good 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a glossy deep purple and sticky sweet.

While the onions are cooking, bring a well salted pot of water to boil (for the broccolini) and begin to prepare your tempeh. Heat another skillet over moderate heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add as many strips of tempeh as you can fit so that they are not overlapping. Splash a tablespoon of tamari over the tempeh and then roll the pan around so that the liquid is evenly distributed. Cook for several minutes, then flip and cook on the other side until well browned. Continue with the rest of the tempeh.

Meanwhile, trim up the broccolini by cutting off the woody base of the stems and trimming any larger pieces into smaller bits. When the water has come to a full boil, plunge the broccolini into the water and cook for 2 minutes.

Drain the broccolini and place in a bowl with the dandelion greens and radicchio. Drizzle a little of the warmed oil in and toss with a little salt and pepper to coat the greens. Scatter over the tempeh, olives, caramelized onions and a little salt and pepper. Drizzle over the remaining oil along with the squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with the lemon zest. Serve at once on warm plates.

Eggs on toast

Normally eating by myself is something I rather dread.  Being of the type that immensely enjoys pleasing others – watching people I love derive happiness from something I’ve created just for them – cooking for myself has always seemed rather unrewarding. So much effort just to sit down alone.  But lately I’ve been finding it strangely pleasing – just in the way that I am coming to appreciate other sorts of solitude as well.  When I open the door and find the house empty, I find myself actually experiencing a sense of relief.  The house to myself, time to do what I want.  Don’t get me wrong – I love my husband dearly and I would be just as thrilled if not more so to find him home when I wasn’t expecting to. But moments of solitude become more precious as we get older, and when they are happened upon unexpectedly, one must relish them.

Lately it has happened that there is one day each week when I have a good several hours before M gets home from work. I’ve gotten into the habit of preparing myself a little snack in that space of time – more of a lite dinner sort of business – before embarking on my “empty house” sorts of tasks. It’s quickly becoming a weekly ritual for me. The day I dine alone. I like what happens when there is no one to please or to impress but my own hunger.  I can crunch as loudly as I like, let the crumbs fall all over my lap, I can give all my focus and attention to the food that sits before me. Eating as though no one were watching. I can yield completely to the whims of my own inclinations and taste with no abashedness.  I can cook everything in one pan so there is hardly any mess to clean. The food that is born of this has that pared down, humble, comforting character that only food that is designed purely for hunger’s sake can embody.

Some days I assemble a salad, which is really a meditative sort of thing to do when you are alone late in the afternoon. Some days I am completely unashamed in my eating and I dine on bananas mashed up with peanut butter and chocolate chips, which is truly a meal to be eaten in secret. But one of my favorite meals of all – one that is as pleasing and satisfying to me as any gourmet meal could be – is eggs on toast. I think I get this from my Grandfather, who as much as lived on this meal in his later years. A widower in his old age, he was well versed in meals that are born out of hunger alone. It seems in my memory that he was always seated at the table in the kitchen whenever we came, a plate of toast crumbs and the golden drops of a runny egg yolk pushed off to the side of his papers. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much, that even in the lonely ticking moments of solitude, we can find connection to the people that we love.

What do you eat when you are alone?

Eggs on toast with tomatoes, olives and parsley

There are endless adaptations to this simple and humble supper. This is one of my favorites. Serves 1.

  • 1 thickly sliced piece of whole grain bread
  • a good handful of grated hard sheep’s milk cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon organic cream
  • 1 tablespoon organic butter or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup roasted plum tomatoes
  • a handful of pitted kalmata olives (5-6), chopped
  • 3-4 stalks of parsley, leaves roughly torn

Place the toast under a broiler and lightly brown on both sides. Once the bread has been toasted on both sides, top with the cheese and return to the oven for a further minute or two until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

While the toast is toasting, beat the egg in a small bowl with the cream and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Heat the butter or oil in a small skillet. On one side of the pan, add the tomatoes. When the pan is thoroughly hot and the tomatoes begin to sizzle, add the beaten egg to the other half. Let it sizzle for a moment and then use a wooden spoon to gently draw the edges into the middle, working from all sides, until the egg is just cooked. Remove from the heat.

Place your toast on a plate and top with the tomatoes. Place the egg over this and scatter with the olives, then finish with the parsley leaves and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Enjoy in the solitude of your own beautiful company.