You Gotta Have Peas

No one is neutral on peas.

In England for a conference a few decades ago I was taken to dinner by a local guy who ordered something the English like to eat. It came with a side of mushy peas (mushy rhymes with bushy). To the eye the peas looked like they had been cooked 2-3 hours, then stored away to languish in  cans for 2-3 decades. They were the color of bile, more texture than taste. 

Aside from a few summers I was sent out to the garden to pick peas, and unpodded them and ate them on the spot, I do not have warm memories of peas.

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Eat Up

In the kitchen I originate very little. Modify, yes; originate, no.

I’m okay with that.

I was gratified recently when I watched “Funke,” a documentary film about Evan Funke, the American chef whose LA restaurant Felix attempts to serve the best pasta in the United States. Not just good pasta. The best.  (Felix menu shown above.) What struck me were Funke’s remarks early in the film about the casalinghe tradition in Italy.  

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Quick and Spicy

In just thirty minutes, you can make a pasta sauce that will change your life. Sausage and leeks and tomato. Salt and pepper. And if you’re a spicy person, red pepper flakes to hot the sauce up a bit, or a lot.

A word about sausage.

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Once More to the Table

Food so beautiful you can’t believe your eyes, food so good you can’t believe your tastebuds.

If you grow up and come of age at the dinner table in Michigan, the way I did, it can be hard to fathom the variety of foods in Italy.

For 40 some years now I’ve been plumbing those depths, coming up for air with a smile on my face, then diving deeper.  In these next few blog posts, I’m going to try to warm up to this subject; in words and pictures, sharing some of the food fun we have when we come to Italy.  

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Pasta with Young Poppy Leaves (le Rosole)

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It’s not the same, but almost. And mind-blowing good to eat.

In Santarcangelo, where legend has it the Sangiovese grape gets its name, my wife and I have lunch and dinner at Trattoria del Passatore. We go there for many things, chief among them ravioli served with a rosole sauce.

Rosole, also known as papavero in Italian, are young poppy leaves. You see fields of poppies in Italy, with their brilliant red flowers. The leaves are harvested and used in a pasta sauce, well before the plant flowers.

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The Ragu Hour

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It’s time well spent.

Ragu recipes abound. Here’s what works for me: An onion, a dab of ground meat, wine and peas, tomato puree. This recipe makes ragu that will sauce pasta for four people.

In olive oil saute half an onion the size of a tennis ball. Bigger is better. Onion adds sweetness and soul to a sauce. Chop the onion, roll it in olive oil until it takes on that transparent look.

chopped-onion

Next break up a quarter pound of ground meat. Beef is fine. Veal is fine. Pork or lamb or buffalo are fine. Some recipes call for a combination of meats. Break up? Scatter bits of the meat over the onion bed, raise the heat, jab and roll the mix for five minutes or so. Salt and pepper.

Lower the heat and cover the pan, cooking the meat down a little more. You’re lightly browning it; you’re releasing and activating the fat in the meat. (Note: if you use a lean meat like buffalo, you’ll need to add a little more olive oil.)

Wine makes this sauce fragrant. I add a third of a cup of red wine. Some recipes call for white. Do what works for you (or use what you have on hand). I like a deep dark sauce, which makes me a red man. Cover and cook ten minutes or so on medium heat. You’re cooking the wine down and should get something that looks like this:

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Now half a jar of tomato puree. And now, if peas agree with you, half to three-quarters of bag of frozen peas.

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Raise the heat to get your mix cooking, then cover the pan and lower the heat. It cooks. In 30 minutes it looks like this:

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Spurn spaghetti or linguini when you have a gutsy ragu like this. For this sauce you want a wide noodle, like tagliatelle or fettucine, or a pasta that “holds” the sauce like garganelli, wheels, or campanelle.

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See how those peas get nestled in the pasta? There is no greater food than pasta with ragu. Shown above: pork ragu with campanelle.  Oh, baby.