When Jody and I began casting about for a theme for our next project our agent suggested we do an “entertaining book.” To which I replied, “Aren’t all books supposed to be entertaining?” Ha. Ha. Thunk.
The truth of the matter is that while I believe that guests ought to depart our house with a smile on their lips, a song in their heart, and a full stomach the notion of writing a how-to-entertain book left me cold. I’m old enough to remember my mother’s copies of Ladies Home Journal with their photographs of canapés marching in regimental formation across the serving platters of Bridge Night America, with Mad Men and the Viet Nam War happening just offstage. The apogee of the canapé craze was aerosal shrimp dip, a neon-orange goo you squirted onto a cracker like a miniature stupa of soft ice cream, if soft ice cream were the color of traffic cones and tasted like “shrimp.” I know, I know, I’m substituting my memory of “entertaining” for the vibrant, clever world that culinary entertaining has become. No matter, that’s how it felt to me.
I prefer to worship at the altar of hospitality, rather than entertaining. Entertaining parses your life into into realms. The private realm is marked by gruel, dog food and the odd can of water chestnuts. The entertaining realm features sourdough loaves fashioned from home-grown wheat, spit-roasted French game birds and Pakistani mango tiramisu. You pull out and dust off this fancy life for visiting poobahs. As far as your guests can tell, your life is a moveable feast.
Hospitality doesn’t make these distinctions. It simply invites you into my life. And this is where Sweet Pea Bruschetta with Lime Toast comes in. Bruschetta are anti-poobah food. Rough-hewn slices of toasted bread are supposed to look a little rustica–regard the macho grill marks–instead of neat and pretty. They’re often topped with something delicious (fresh mozzarella) or coolly edgy (white anchovies, baby octopus). What all of these latter things have in common is that they’re quick, easy and tasty–which conjures up the kind of private food that puts everyone at ease. Almost any time our grill’s in use, we make bruschetta, whether we’re eating en famille or not. Grilled bread rubbed with evoo and basil eliminates the need for potatoes or rice. If we are having company then bruschetta are a nice counterpoint to bowls of olives or nuts. Spring peas and mascarpone? Why not? I’m not serving you anything pretentious–you just happened to drop by when we’re making a hometown favorite. And if you hadn’t knocked on our door we would have eaten all of it by ourselves.
We had hoped to include some pea tendrils in this week’s post, but we only found one, mixed in with our bag of unshelled peas. Tendrils aren’t widely available yet. If you do happen across some, chop a few up and add them to the peas, reserving a few for a garnish. Even poobahs will be impressed.
*You say bruschetta, I say crostini. Bruschetta tend to be larger and coarser than crostini, with the emphasis falling on what is rubbed across the toasted bread. Crostini may be more delicate, and usually feature a topping. Practically speaking, the terms are used almost interchangeably.
Sweet Pea Bruschetta with Lime Toast
Makes 24 bruschetta.
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups shelled peas (about 2 pounds of unshelled peas in their pods)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup thinly sliced leeks, washed
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup chopped chervil
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- 1 cup creme fraiche/mascarpone
- 2 limes, zested and cut in half
- 1 rustic baguette, long enough to make 24 slices, cut on a slight diagonal, each about 3/8-inch thick
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons sugar with the peas and cook 3 minutes or until tender. Scoop out into an ice bath to cool. Drain.
- Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and garlic, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the peas and smash with a potato masher. Stir in the chervil, mint, lime zest and juice of 1½ limes. Mash until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Grill or toast the bread lightly so it’s crisp on the outside and still soft in the center. Brush with olive oil.
- Rub the toasts with the cut side of the remaining lime. Smear with mascarpone.
- Top with the pea mash. Drizzle with olive oil.
This post should have been a no-brainer, a recipe I could do with my hands tied behind my back, but I ended up getting in my own way. When Ken and I talked about a pea bruschetta it was a simple idea, with a few simple ingredients. But was I content with simple peas and mint? Noooooo…. I started talking about it to my staff. Before I knew it I added chervil, cumin cilantro and avocado. Ken wasn’t enthusiastic–he said the flavors were muddy and the whole thing seemed a long way from simple bruschetta.
I had to agree with him.
So I started over with a promise to keep it simple (I kept the chervil, which I love). But there was still something missing. . . mint. There are some flavors that complete each other and with peas it’s mint. It’s that simple.
Spring peas can vary a lot in their sweetness. The first batch we used were quite starchy; the second, really sweet. I add sugar to the blanching water to cover my bases. If the peas are starchy, the sugar will sweeten them up. If they’re already sweet the sugar seems to have relatively little effect.