I was on the road a lot this spring but now I’m ready to relax and settle into summer. Relax into morning iced teas and late night ice creams, into sun hats and flip flops and smelling like sunscreen. Relax into the poolside beers and dinner parties where the sun refuses to go down. So I though I would share a good potluck dish that tastes like summer, but is so easy to make it doesn’t keep you from enjoying it!
Remember how I said that summer begins and ends with basil pesto…well, enter summer! I know it’s not official, we have a little over a week to go, but I decided to bring out the basil pesto. It’s a little different than the one I made for you guys before; it’s still a no cook, delicious the next day, pasta salad. Cue, sweet peas and grape tomatoes, more summer staples, then throw in some parsley, lemon and top it off with chives and you’ve got something special.
The sweet pea herb ricotta sauce – a non traditional take on a pesto – is still a simple blender sauce, which is good because it leaves more time for you to make a little something extra like…a sweetly tart honey balsamic reduction that makes this dish a little fancy. A good looking well dressed pasta salad is always welcome at any party.
Sweet Peas are made of these…
Sweet Pea and Ricotta Pasta Salad PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 15 mins / Cook: 10 mins / TOTAL: 25 mins
[Serving size: 4 dinner sized portions]
If using frozen peas make sure to take them out ahead of time so that they can defrost. If using fresh peas give yourself a little extra time to shell them.
Fill up a large pot with about 5 quarts of water - or until water is about 3 inches from the top. Salt generously - at least 1 tablespoon - cover and set heat to high.
Wash tomatoes and slice thinly. Marinate the tomato slices in 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Wash and stem the basil and parsley, zest and juice 1 lemon, and peel 3-4 gloves of garlic [I like a lot of garlic, but it is used raw here so it gives a lot of kick, so use less if you want the flavor to be milder]. Chop the feta into small pieces and mince the chives. The feta, lemon zest and chives will be used as a topping, you can put them aside to use at the end.
In a small food processor combine the ricotta, sweet peas, washed and stemmed basil and parsley, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic cloves, a few pinches of salt and a few grind of fresh cracked black pepper. Blend until all ingredients are incorporated and the texture is smooth. Let sit in the food processor.
When water begins to bowl add the pasta and set timer to 8 minutes.
Pour the balsamic vinegar and honey into a small skillet and cook over high heat until it begins to bubble/boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer until it has reduced to half of its volume and is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes.
When pasta is done cooking, reserve 1/3 cup pasta water before draining. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl and toss with a splash of the pasta water and a tablespoon of olive oil, mix well.
Add the reserved pasta water to the sweet pea ricotta sauce and blend – this will help to thin out the sauce a little. Toss the pasta as well as the marinated tomatoes and the sweet pea ricotta sauce. Top the pasta with feta, lemon zest and chives, drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top.
While I love to cook and play around with recipes for you all, I also love to talk to other people about food and check out what they are cooking and feeling inspired by. So I wanted to start a feature series, where every now and then I’ll head over to a friend’s kitchen, poke around and take some notes. Last time I featured Kaspar, by other, sweet-toothed, half on our camping trip, this time…my mom!
Two weeks ago I was home in New York visiting my parents. I have a mom to whom I feel pretty indebted for my gastronomic passion and interest. While I may have started out as a frozen pea girl, my tasted buds have luckily developed past this naive phase. It is tradition that when I go home, my mom asks me what we should cook. This past trip I was lucky enough to be treated to some fresh soft shell crabs. These crabs have recently cast off their hard shell or “molted” it and are in season Spring through late Summer. When lightly pan-fried with the right amount of seasoning they are a little bit of heaven…crisp and salty, tangy from lemon and sprinkled with some fresh herbs.
But enough, lets get my mom’s perspective...
So here's how it all began...
When your father asked me one spring day, a long time ago, "are the soft shell crabs in yet ?" I stared at him in confusion, not having a clue what these crabs were, nor that they were considered a seasonal delicacy.
So I went down the avenue to 92 street to Holland Court Meat and Fish Market to find out. I came home with 4 small crabs, minus the heads, and didn't have any idea what to do with them.
This was 1971. In those days there was no Internet, no Google , no Food TV - only cook books ! And I took down my fat as bricks 2 volume set of " The Gourmet Cookbook " , so handsome with their burgundy covers with gold scroll…sure enough - I found inspiration there.
I learned how to soak them in a mixture of milk, garlic, onions and herbs, then drain them and dredge in flour and sauté them in butter [and learned fast to use a mesh screen - the crabs pop with a cheerful sound and get juices all over!].
To finish them off, I would melt butter, add lemon juice and parsley [this was my father's go-to for all sautéed fish] and pour it over them - and I was sold! The legs were crunchy and delicious and the body fleshy and moist - truly a seasonal delicacy!! I taught myself how to cook in that bright simple little kitchen... and all these years later I still make the soft shell crabs this way and your father and I look forward to that first bite of the season.
Soft Shell Crab PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 30mins / Cook: 8mins / TOTAL: 38mins]
[Serving size about 1 crab per person, earlier in the season the crabs are smaller so you may want to get 2 per person]
Green beans or haricôt vert: washed and ends trimmed, blanched ahead of time for about 2 minutes with just enough water to cover them. Tossed in ice bath and set out to dry for a few minutes. Then quickly sautéed in olive oil with slivered garlic and red pepper flakes
Roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese: washed and ends snapped off, lightly tossed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, evenly spread out on baking sheet. Cooked in oven at 400° for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Remove from oven, turn on broiler and grate enough parmesan to lightly cover the asparagus, return to oven for 30 seconds under the broiler.
Boiled small potatoes lightly pan fried with fresh herbs and butter: bring potatoes to a boil over high heat in a deep skillet with just enough water to cover them – you’ll want most of the potatoes touching the bottom of the skillet. Let boil for about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and turn the heat down to a simmer, add 1 tablespoon butter and toss with herbs of choice. Let them lightly pan fry while you finish cooking the soft shell crabs.
Mixed green salad tossed with lemon and olive oil. You can serve the crab on a bed of this salad – makes for a pretty presentation!
Most seafood stores will have already cleaned and prepped the soft shell crabs before you bring them home - keep them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.
Pour the milk into a shallow bowl and add 1/4 cup parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, a few dashes salt and a few grinds fresh black pepper. Add the crabs and let soak for about 25 minutes. There should be enough milk to cover the crabs, if not then adjust amount.
If you are making side dishes you should prep/cook them now.
Remove the crabs from the milk mixture and pat dry. Dust entire crab with flour.
Place large cast iron skillet over med-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. When butter begins to foam add the soft shell crabs bottoms down first, evenly spread out and let cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown - make sure to have a splatter screen ready, you will need it! Flip the crabs and finish cooking top side down for 3-4 more minutes, also until they are golden brown. Remove them from the skillet and add 1 tablespoon butter, scraping up all the browned bits and add a few pinches parsley and chives [leaving a little of both for garnish] the remaining lemon juice and white wine. Stir well and let cook down for 1-2 minutes.
Evenly disperse the white wine sauce over the plated soft shell crabs and serve with your sides. Enjoy!
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