Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Give Peas A Chance

A few weeks ago, as I angrily trudged home through snow and rain on my way back from the farmers market, finding that spring had clearly not sprung, I took a break from cursing mother nature to ask myself a question. What the heck do people do with all those pea shoots? At that time, the market was still a botanical wasteland filled with gray tubers and gnarly roots. As those of us looking forward to spring goodies loitered near any stand that showed the promise of selling us anything resembling green spring and summer vegetables, one small stand was bathed in shade, slightly removed from the rest, with a line of smiling customers that seemed never ending. I walked over thinking I'd hit the jackpot (perhaps there was early asparagus, or ramps?), only to see that they were selling various types of shoots. Most customers appeared to be walking away with bagfuls of pea shoots. Assuming they were hippie health nuts that would just throw them in their yogurt with some granola and and a handful of goji berries, I begrudgingly headed for home empty handed.

It wasn't until two weeks later, during another dismal visit to the farmers market that I took notice of the stand again--steady flow of traffic, and several satisfied customers walking away with bags. I asked a few people what they did with theirs, and generally the answers were predictable: sandwiches, salads and garnishes. But that very week I received an email from The Astor Center here in New York, and it suggested using pea shoots on crostini. I figured it was the best way to give them a shot, since I wouldn't have to buy too many of them in case I wasn't a fan, and I'd get to taste them raw. I did some research and learned that they are the young leaves of your everyday garden pea plant, and are harvested within the first month of growing. They're small and tender with a mild flavor and beautiful bright green color. Knowing that, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and picked a few up at the
(much more exciting) farmers market this weekend.

I grabbed a crunchy baguette on my way home along with a small container of ricotta cheese and a few lemons. After toasting the bread until it was nice and crispy, I sliced it and buttered it with rich french butter. I topped that with a spoonful of ricotta, lemon zest, and the pea shoots. I finished the whole thing off with a very light drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. In the end, not only was it a great appetizer, but I can really see why people liked them so much. Although there's nothing overwhelming about their flavor, pea shoots are sweet and subtle and great for adding just a hint of freshness and crunch. I can see why they're popular in sandwiches, and next time I'll definitely use them as an alternative to lettuce for a sandwich or or a white pizza. Here's the final crostini recipe, and let me warm you, it's absolutely addictive (I ate the entire batch for dinner--that's an entire baguette's worth). Enjoy!

Pea Shoot and Ricotta Crostini

2 cups loosely packed pea shoots
1/2 stick butter (French butter would be best, but any will do)
1 1/2 cups part skim ricotta cheese
2 lemons
1 baguette
sea salt

Heat bread in the oven until crunchy and warmed through. Slice into 1-inch thick rounds and spread each slice with butter and about a heaping teaspoon of ricotta cheese. Top each with lemon zest, pea shoots, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve. Enjoy!


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