Thursday, April 26, 2018

Eats Shoots and Leaves

A panda walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. "Why? Why are you behaving in this strange, un-panda-like fashion?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda walks towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

An old joke, but one that has relevance to this spring season, and not because we'll find pandas behaving badly. It's due to the plethora of spring shoots like raab and rapini, yes, but also other sweet tendrils like those of fava beans and peas.

Go to the farmers' market and just behind the explosions of fresh flower arrangements 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. You'll also find that the prices are often less than 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. Plus there was enough left over to chop and sauté the remaining half bunch and toss it with some mushrooms and spectacular purple asparagus.

Pasta with Pea Shoot Pesto, Asparagus and Mushrooms

For the pesto:
1 lb. pasta (I like fettucine or linguine for this recipe)
1 large bunch pea shoots
Olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/4 c. parmesan, grated
Salt to taste

For the pasta:
3 anchovy filets (optional)
1/2 lb. asparagus spears, sliced in 1" lengths
1/4 lb. mushrooms
1/4 tsp. dried hot red peppers, like cayenne, seeded and ground

Put a 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, mushrooms and asparagus and sauté until the vegetables are tender but still crunchy. 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.

Get the excellent and grammatically witty tome containing the panda joke, Eats Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by British writer Lynne Truss.

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