Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Season NW: Sleuthing Out Spring Shoots

Maybe it's because we've been watching the marvelous Agatha Christie mysteries with Geraldine McEwan as the sleuthing spinster Miss Jane Marple—its Wes Anderson-like, dotty style is endearingly cartoonish and fits Christie's drawing room tone perfectly—but when I head to the farmers' market these days I try to engage my inner detective to suss out the hidden gems to be found there.

One that consistently flies under the radar and is often lost in the stampede to the larger, better-known vegetable stands can be found just next to the explosions of fresh flower arrangements. Glance across the mountains of peonies, lilies and delphiniums and you'll often see a rickety old card table mounded with green bundles of bok choy, pea shoots and other lesser-known but delicious spring greens like culantro, sawtooth herb and unusual mint varieties. Plus the prices are often less than you'll find at larger stands and the quality is always superb.

On my last trip to the market I brought back a huge bunch of pea shoots, with their fine, twisty tendrils and blossoms just beginning to color, so a spring pesto was called for, and there was enough to sauté half and toss with some mushrooms I had in the vegetable bin.

Pasta with Pea Shoot Pesto and Mushrooms

1 lb. pasta
1 large bunch pea shoots
Olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/4 c. parmesan, grated
Salt to taste
3 anchovy filets (optional)
1/4 lb. mushrooms
1/4 tsp. dried hot red peppers, like cayenne, seeded and ground

Put large pot of water on to boil. While it heats, make the pesto.

Slice the bunch of pea shoots into 2” lengths, reserving a few tendrils for garnishing the final dish. Take the pieces from the bottom half (the thicker stems) and place them in a blender with the garlic and pine nuts. Drizzle in some olive oil, turn on the blender and continue drizzling just until it makes a smooth purée. Pour into small mixing bowl and stir in cheese and salt to taste.

When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot and cook till al dente. While the pasta cooks, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the anchovies, if using, and mash them with the back of a spoon until they dissolve (1 min. or so). Add the cayenne and mushrooms and sauté till the mushrooms are tender. Add the remaining chopped pea shoots and sauté till wilted.

Drain the pasta, add the pesto and toss until thoroughly combined. Top with pea shoot mixture and garnish with reserved tendrils. Additional grated parmesan can be served alongside.

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