Even though I have a lot of book left to write (unless you’re my editor, in which case, just kidding, almost done!) and deadlines both before and after that one requiring my attention, endless paperwork, emails and all sorts of tiresome things on my real-life agenda, I’ve decided to focus my daydreaming on something more aspirational: what to cook on a lazy summer night.
We rented a beach house for a week last year but were surprised to find that 11-month olds don’t always sleep in foreign locations. At all. We staggered through the week and ate out a lot. I’d like us all to do better this year. In an area full of farm stands and wineries, with a kitchen bigger than a shoebox, with a grill and a deck, it’s a shame not to be cooking at home as much as we can. But leisurely, with as few ingredients as possible and at least one of them straight off the farm.
Here’s my first offering in that category. I admitted last year that previously, I wasn’t really into peas. I mean, I like them in curries and I’ve never, ever picked them out of food and let them roll onto the floor like some other nameless people in this family, but I wasn’t charmed by them until I started buying them fresh, flicking them from their pods and blanching them long enough to just barely cook them, so they still retained a slight crunch. It changed everything. Peas are bright and flavorful and endlessly early summerish, oh, and inexpensive. I’ve been known to take a few days to get to them and they still don’t go bad — try that with just-picked berries. (Actually, please don’t. Just eat as much as you can and then a little more because they don’t last.)
And this is a pea pesto. You cook the peas briefly enough that they stay a little resistant, and whirl most of them in the food processor with well-toasted pine nuts, grated parmesan, garlic, salt and olive oil. You then toss it with linguine and a whole lot of its cooking water and the peas you didn’t pesto (yeah, I just verb-ed pesto; my poor editor has her work cut out!) and it smooths into a sauce. A green sauce with green polka-dots. More or less, I want this dish to be a dress, but I’ll settle for it being dinner. Fortunately, it hardly feels like compromise.
One year ago: Bread and Butter Pickles and Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart
Two years ago: Strawberries and Dumplings and Horseradish Potato Salad
Three years ago: Sweet Cherry Pie
Four years ago: Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Potato Salad
Linguine with Pea Pesto
1 1/2 cups (from approximately 1 1/2 pounds peas in pods) fresh pea or a 10-ounce package frozen peas, defrosted
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted and cooled
1/2 cup (1 1/8 ounces) finely grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon table salt, plus more for pasta water
1/3 cup olive oil
12 ounces dried linguine
Garnish (optional): thinly slivered basil or mint leaves
If you’re completely maniacal about your peas getting overcooked (I am!), prepare an ice bath, a large bowl filled with ice water. Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add peas and cook for 2 minutes (this leaves them with a bit of structure). Drain peas then add them to the ice bath (if using) and drain again. If you haven’t used an ice bath, let your peas cool to lukewarm before making the pesto.
Set aside 1/2 cup of your cooked peas. Whirl the remaining cup of peas in the work bowl of a food processor with garlic, pine nuts, 1/3 cup parmesan and salt until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary. With the machine running, drizzle in olive oil. You can stop right here, toast some baguette slices and make some fine, fine crostini. Or, you can continue…
Cook your linguine until al dente. Reserve about two cups pasta cooking water (yes, this is a lot, the pea pesto will be surprisingly thick) then drain linguine and return it to pot. Over moderate heat, toss pasta with pesto, reserved peas and as much reserved pasta water as needed to smooth and distribute pesto; let cook for one minute so that the pesto adheres. Adjust salt to taste, add freshly ground black pepper if desired. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh herbs, if using, and remaining parmesan for passing.