Hungry and Pea Green with Envy

Hunger was published in the spring of 2001 but I wrote most of it during 1998, starting in the fall when my son entered kindergarten.  The timing was perfect: I had the idea for a complete story and two and a half hours a day in which to write it.  Oh, and we lived in Iceland, a country that experiences about two and a half hours of sunshine midwinter.  As daylight dwindled, so did the the desire to be anywhere but inside sitting close to a radiator with a purring tuxedo cat on my lap.

Besides being dark, Iceland is cold too.  Nothing much grows in winter, or even summer for that matter, not without the intervention of greenhouses and hydroponic conditions.  Produce “out in town” (i.e. from the Hagkaup in Keflavik or Reykjavik) was pricey, flown in from other more temperate parts of Europe.  As a Navy family, we were lucky to be able to shop at our wonderful base commissary where prices were kept in line with US prices and a good selection of food was regularly shipped in from the States.  But between food flights, the available fresh fruits and vegetables could look tired (or perhaps it was our palates, tired of eating only what was on hand).  No surprise that, as I wrote in the dark and the cold, Hunger ended up being about eating good food and cooking good food for the people we love.  I was writing about the tastes I longed for.

“For our dinner I had diced seedless cucumber, red peppers, plum tomatoes, red onion, and an avocado uniformly; tossed them all together with lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper; and then placed a few spoonfuls on each plate…Earlier in the day I had made potato salad, laced it with roasted-garlic mayonnaise…,” I wrote.

Day after day scenes like this, full of fresh and colorful food, poured out until they were finally stitched together into a book about a woman who has to rediscover how much she likes to eat, how okay it is to enjoy eating and feeding people, before she can feel comfortable with who she is.

In a weird coincidence, using this week’s bounty from Cider Hill and Tendercrop farms, I nearly recreated these dishes from the opening scene of my first novel.  Except I added some of  the season’s first near-black blueberries to the avocado salsa and served it with pan seared chicken instead of main character Anna’s “huge, bright orange Pacific salmon fillet.”

And the roasted garlic potato salad I made this morning uses roasted red pepper and onions instead of the book’s scallions and capers and will be served tonight as a side dish to a completely different meal.

My friend, Nan, returned last weekend from a week away, and we took some time to catch up midweek.  Before leaving town, she had arranged for me to pick up the week’s CSA share from Middle Earth Farm.  I was thrilled by her offer.  Middle Earth consistently gives her great stuff, so great that I feel more than a twinge of envy when I hear about the week’s haul.  The list seems to go on and on and makes me question the decision to do without the CSA this year.

Sadly, I had no car on pick up day and had to take a pass on the produce.  I told Nan what happened, and on our night out she arrived at my front door bearing gifts from this week’s pick up.  Bulbs of fresh garlic with close to two feet of their stalks attached, and a generous bunch of just pulled scallions with lengths of vivid green tops.  Everyone should have a friend like Nan: she tells a good story, offers a good ear in return, and brings produce.

A few cloves of Nan’s garlic were roasted along with the potatoes and red pepper for tonight’s potato salad.

But I wanted to use the scallions in something other than salad.  The deep pine green of the tops made me remember I had peas waiting for me in the fridge,  A few days before, I had grabbed what was left of the peas at Cider Hill, which wasn’t many.  Shelled, they yielded something less than a cup of peas, not enough for serving as a side dish.  Not enough to puree for a fresh pea soup for four either.

Still, the idea of a puree stuck with me.  And then inspiration struck: I could stir a pea-and-scallion green puree into a risotto in the last few minutes and end up with a creamy and pale green main course.

So that’s what I did.

Risotto with Fresh Pea and Scallion Green Puree

Make the puree first.  Note: You’ll need a good blender for this puree.  The food processor won’t cut it.

  • scant cup of fresh peas
  • green tops from a generous bunch of scallions, chopped

First, prepare an ice water bath and set it in the fridge or freezer to stay very cold while you blanch the vegetables.

Next, add the peas to lightly salted boiling water and cook for 2 -4 minutes, or until they taste barely tender when tested.  Add the chopped scallion greens to the water and blanch another 30 – 60 seconds.  Remove pan from heat and immediately drain the vegetables, giving them a quick rinse under cold running water.  Turn the vegetables into the cold water bath you prepared and set aside earlier.  Shocking the vegetables stops the cooking, thus retaining the bright green.

Drain the chilled vegetables.  Pull out a few of the remaining ice cubes and toss these into the blender’s canister.  Discard the rest of the ice pieces, if any, and add the drained vegetables to the blender along with the few pieces of ice.

Cover and process, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary, until the puree is very smooth.  (Note: if the peas and scallions are slow to process, add a few drops of cold water to help them along, but be careful not to add too much and end up with a watery puree.)

Transfer the puree to a bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to use it to finish the risotto recipe.  Follow the basic instructions for making just the risotto’s rice base as written here.  After you’ve added enough stock to yield rice that is close to al dente, stir in the pea-scallion puree and heat the rice through, cooking another minute or so.
When the rice is al dente and the pea puree has been well incorporated into the risotto, remove the pan from the heat.  Add up to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese and some freshly ground pepper.  Serve risotto immediately, and enjoy.

©2011  Jane A. Ward

There’s still some weekend left, and some members of the North Shore Bloggers Consortium share ideas for ways you might spend these sunshiny days.  Take a look:

From the ladies at North Shore Dish

From Seth at Lynn Happens