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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Market Fresh

I love the early growing season. Year after year, I hop on board with unabashed abandon. Right now, I have Grandpa Admires lettuce, Bloomsdale Spinach, and Appolo arugula seedlings nestled in covered peat pots tucked into a sunny corner of our dining room bay window. Enthusiastic? Yes. Practical? Not so much. Curbing my enthusiasm has always been a challenge. Downtown urban gardening has its ups and downs. As much as as I try, I've had hits and misses throughout the years. While planting space is always an issue ( even with containers), the biggest obstacle might be the nineteen enormous mature shade trees surrounding our downtown farm.  Well, that and my impeccable impatience. If patience is indeed a virtue, I'm a slut. A gardening slut. Thankfully, we've had a spring awakening at the farmers market. While over-wintered potatoes and root vegetables still  rule the roost, tender lettuces, micro greens, pea shoots, and ramps have quietly joined the rugged winter stalwarts. Long before the big guns flood the market like thundering wildebeests, the dainty early season jewels flutter into the market like dancing sprites offering hope, renewal, and long awaited inspiration.

Fresh Angel Hair Pasta with Pea Shoot Pesto.

Pea Shoot Pesto.
Early season pea shoots and pea tendrils are wonderful little things. With delicate twisting tendrils, floppy leaves, and crisp juicy stems,  tender young pea shoots sport the subtle flavor of fresh spring peas edged with soft grassy undertones. Although  hampered by a very short season, pea shoots and tendrils are incredibly versatile. They're great in salads, soups, sandwiches, stir-fries, and/or pesto.

Small effort. Big payoff.
I tumbled 3 tablespoons of shelled pistachio nuts and 2 crushed garlic cloves into the base of a food processor. After pulverizing the nuts and garlic, I added 3 cups (loosely packed) Hoot Owl Holler Farm pea shoots, a dash of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. With the motor running, I drizzled 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil into the bowl and let it rip until the pesto formed a rough puree. After scraping down the sides of the processor, I added 1/2 parmigiano- reggiano, gave it a quick pulse to incorporate the cheese, scooped the pesto into a small glass bowl, drizzled it with olive oil, and slid the pesto into the refrigerator to chill.

Angel Hair Pasta.
I interviewed with a local restaurant a while back and was hired on the spot because of my angel hair (capelli d' deangelo)) pasta. Here's the deal. Making fresh pasta is fairly straightforward. Most pastas incorporate a combination of very simple ingredients (eggs, flour, salt, sometimes olive oil, sometimes water) in various forms and ratios. That said, angel hair pasta can be a little tricky. Because the fragile strands are so delicate and thin, the dough needs to be a bit drier than most other pasta doughs and kept well floured throughout the process to help the cutting process.

I kept it very simple.
I changed out the bowl of the food processor and replaced the metal blade with a plastic dough blade. After scooping 2 1/2 cups Wiesenberger Mill unbleached all purpose flour into the bowl, I cracked 3 large Elmwood Stock Farm organic free range eggs into the flour, added a pinch of salt, a smidgen of olive oil, and ripped the dough into a rough ball. Instead of pulling the dough from the processor, I let go for another 30 seconds before plopping the dough onto a floured board. After kneading the dough for 5 minutes, I formed it into a small disc, rolled it in flour, wrapped it plastic wrap, and set it aside to rest for an hour.

When the dough relaxed, I used a bench scraper to divide the dough into fourths. Working with one piece of dough at a time, I floured and rolled the pieces through a hand crank pasta machine, changing the settings to thinner settings after each pass (flouring the pasta at every stage) until I had four long pliable pasta sheets. After letting the sheets dry for 10 minutes, I sliced them in half and used the machine to cut the pasta into wispy strands before feathering them onto a floured dish towel.

I brought a large pot of water to a rolling boil, heavily salted the water, and added 2 handfuls of the pasta.  After 2 minutes, I scooped the pasta out of the water with a spider, dropped it into a large glass bowl, and tossed the pasta with 1/2 cup pea shoot pesto. To loosen the sauce a bit, I added 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta water, gave it another toss, and twirled the pasta into large pasta bowls before finishing with a splash of lemon and Harmony Hill organic microgreens.

Spring renewal.

Like a breath of fresh air.

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