Such days are these! The earth stirs beneath with tremors of sprouts unseen, the branches above stretch new wings in the warming sun, and a soft green breeze breathes Spring into winter-weary hearts.
And with that breath of Spring come old daydreams born anew. Some dream of turning that first small spade of rich soil in the spot by the garden wall where the new primroses will go. Others look forward to recumbent idylls in sun-washed chaises, with nothing more pressing to do than watch the grass grow and listen to the soft clink of melting ice in tall, dewy glasses.
Still others, like myself (and, I suspect, like you, dear reader), may be enticed by Spring’s allure, but are left somewhat anxious, a bit unsettled by a sense that perhaps Winter has not yet breathed his icy last. It is a feeling that will remain with us until that first Saturday – oh, glorious and long-awaited day! – when the Farmer’s Market opens.
Forget what the calendar says, folks. That’s the real first day of Spring.
Fresh leafy greens, glistening radishes, reed-thin asparagus, and more will nourish and satisfy in the first weeks before the strengthening trickle of earthy bounty begins to pour out riches in earnest. Somewhere in that flow is the day when the first pea pods arrive, with their unmatched color, their delicacy, and simple goodness.
I present this dish in anticipation of that happy day. It pairs green peas with fragrant lemongrass and subtle almonds, and accentuates them with the piquance of Grains of Paradise, a West African seed with exotic floral/citrus notes and a peppery bite. The accompanying pan-seared asparagus is simplicity itself and brings out the rich, nutty flavor hidden in this spring favorite.
(Since fresh peas aren’t available quite yet, I used frozen peas that were thawed and refreshed in a bowl of cool water. I also used frozen minced lemongrass (a very handy thing to have around) from my local Asian market, but if you’re using fresh you might want to start out with less and add more to taste.
Here’s a photo of the Green Pea and Lemongrass Paradise Pasta With Pan-Seared Asparagus below.
1 lb pasta (I used linguine, but fettuccine or penne rigati would be fine)
1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 cup shelled green peas
3 Tbsp finely minced lemongrass
1/2 cup mild-flavored oil, such as canola (a strong olive oil would overwhelm here)
2 tsp finely ground Grains of Paradise (I got mine from Marx Foods, but you can substitute fresh ground black pepper, but reduce the amount to 1/2 a tsp in that case.)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp richly-flavored olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and crushed
24 very thin asparagus spears (bottom ends trimmed)
Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, toast the almonds lightly in a dry pan over medium heat; allow to cool briefly. Place the almonds in a food processor bowl and pulse until finely ground.
Add the peas, lemongrass, mild-flavored oil, and grains of paradise to the ground almonds; pulse until nearly smooth. Stir in 1/4 tsp of salt and taste; add more salt if necessary. Set the sauce aside.
(Note: you may need to add a bit more oil; you want an almost pesto-like consistency.)
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and the crushed garlic clove together over medium high heat until the garlic starts to color. Remove and discard garlic clove. Add the asparagus and cook just until the spears are lightly browned. Toss with a pinch of sea salt and remove from heat.
To Serve: Dress the pasta with the green pea sauce and divide among six plates or shallow pasta bowls. Decorate each dish with 4 spears of asparagus. Dust with a bit more finely ground grains of paradise and/or a little freshly grated Parmagiano cheese, if desired.
Please join us tomorrow to enjoy our latest food humor article, A Mercifully Brief History of Tea.
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