When the CSA rains down peas, the one pod that I actually look forward to are the shell peas. With a twisted kind of pleasure, I actually enjoy the labor of unzipping the fiber along the side of the pod, cracking open the shell and freeing the little green peas into a bowl. It’s a tactile and aural thing, I think. The pea pods feel nice and cool after sitting in the fridge and I love the sounds of the snapping of the pods and the soft little plinks that each pea makes as it hits the bowl. I know that fresh peas call for nothing else other than a quick blanching, a light toss in butter and some salt and pepper, but the problem is that the pods never seem to deliver enough peas for me to make a decent side dish out of them… until this year:
I wasn’t expecting a two cup yield of fresh peas as in year’s past, I’ve been lucky if I got even 1 cup which I had to bulk up with other ingredients, so I actually regretted for a fleeting moment that I had already made up my mind to puree these peas to spread on brioche toasts. Regretted it, until I remembered the delicious potential of my little plan… and how much trouble it took to get one of the components made.
The inspiration for these toasts came from browsing menus of some of Seattle’s best small plate restaurants while planning for a visit from a college roommate. One restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, had a sample menu that listed toasts with fresh peas, sorrel and morel mushrooms. Combined with having watched the boring episode of Top Chef with the irritating pea puree incident, I thought I’d try making what I thought these toasts could be like as a means of getting to try making my own pea puree. I also wanted to try making brioche, something that I’d heard was easier to do than it sounds, and is quite fun– another wonderful tactile experience when punching down the bubbly light dough. It’s not like I know what kind of bread Sitka & Spruce uses, but I wanted to use brioche, thinking that its buttery flavor and light but sturdy structure would pair perfectly with a buttery pea puree and crispy mushrooms.
Making the brioche dough was just as lovely as anticipated– I loved the way the dough felt alive (well, the yeast in it was) as I had to gently lift the dough and set it down to release the gas from the yeast fermentation. It was soft and lively, gently pillowy and squishy. The difficulty came with baking. My oven was on the fritz, in fact in its final death throes. I didn’t know it at the time, but the igniter was dying, since every now and then it was self-reviving. Of the three loaves that my recipe yielded, I ended up with one that failed to rise above 2 inches in height while baking, and another sad, sorry one that in a fit of stupidity, was attempted to be baked in a toaster oven, resulting in two strips of black burnt crust on top of an otherwise, perfectly risen, but pale loaf. Luckily, there was one loaf that came out beautifully– perfectly golden with an airy crumb and interior. After a day’s labor and fretting over these loaves, simple buttered peas be damned. Toasts had to be made since I had the bread for it.
Another reason to try making these toasts? The sorrel– we’ve got plenty of it. One of John’s more ingenious ideas has been to slowly transform the garden patches around our house into an entirely edible garden. We’ve got thyme slowly filling in and replacing grass in some patches. Under my kitchen window, some decorative bushes have been pulled out and replaced with rosemary, chervil, sage, and a bay plant. Out on our front lawn, is another herb patch and a fig tree. The move towards a culinary garden has meant experimenting with planting (and cooking) with a wider variety of herbs than we’ve ever had before. (And when not cooking with them, let me tell you that there have been some mighty fine martinis in this house lately using shiso leaves, savory, and yes– sorrel.)
The sorrel itself is lovely. It looks like large clover leaves and has a slightly sour flavor, like a mix of lemon juice but combined with a light mint taste and soft, woodsy undertones like you get with fresh thyme. It’s rather hardy, more like the texture of an arugula leaf, so I figured I could try slicing it into thin ribbons then adding it to my mushrooms as they cooked since it could likely stand up to being sautéed.
Here’s how everything came together: I lightly cooked the peas in a little bit of butter and some lemon zest until they just turned bright green. The peas then steeped in some heavy cream. When I drained the peas, I reserved the cream so I could be in control of how much liquid was added to the blender when pureeing the peas. I wanted a thicker puree so it could spread easily on the toasts yet still have bite, and was not disappointed by the lovely, bright meadow green of the puree with tiny little pieces of the peas so you could still tell what it was made from. I crisped up the mushrooms in a lightly oiled pan so that the edges were softly caramelized and crisp– kind of like little slices of bacon, actually and the sorrel ribbons wilted slightly. Finally, I buttered slices of my brioche bread and toasted them in the pan before spreading a bit of the puree on each toast then topped each with a little pile of the mushroom and sorrel mixture. These were so delicious– the bread was buttery yet light and matched perfectly with the creamy and lightly sweet peas. The sweetness was countered with the earthy crunch of the mushrooms, while the lemony flavor of the sorrel gave a nice touch of balancing acid. We ate these as a side dish to some salmon fillets, but I bet these would make a lovely passed hors d’oeuvre or plated first course for a late summer dinner party. It’d be sure to impress– lovely to look at and in taste.
- 2 cups fresh shell peas
- unsalted butter
- zest of half a lemon
- 1.5 cups heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- 1 loaf of brioche bread– from which you’ve sliced 4 slices, 1 inch wide each
- 4 oz oyster mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons sorrel, chiffonade
Melt a small pat of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the peas, lemon zest, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt with a small pinch of black pepper. Saute until peas turn bright green, about 3-4 minutes. Add the heavy cream and gently simmer over medium low heat for 20-25 minutes. Place a colander over a 2 cup measuring cup and drain the peas, reserving the cream. Pour peas into blender with half a cup of reserved cream. Blend for about 10-15 seconds adding a touch more cream if you wish or if you need it to keep the blender blades going. You should have a puree that is the consistency of humus. Take a taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.
While peas steep in cream, remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop the caps into 1 inch pieces. Add another small pat of butter to a small skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the mushroom pieces and do not disturb them, letting them cook until browned on one side, about 4-5 minutes. Flip over the mushroom pieces, letting them brown on the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Add the sorrel and cook until sorrel is slightly wilted, about 1-2 minutes more. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
Brush both sides of each slice of brioche with butter then add to the pan in which you cooked the mushrooms. Turn the flame to medium low and lightly toast the brioche slices until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes per side. Cool slightly then spread about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the puree on each toast. Top with 3-4 mushroom pieces per toast and serve.
CSA Count: 1
Garden Count: 1