Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pasta with Fresh Shell Beans & Asparagus

I love my freezer. I use it for all kinds of things. From a loud proponent of "fresh, seasonal, local", this may seem like an odd confession. But to me, the ideal of eating locally and seasonally is served by preserving the local harvest. So, one of the many things I use my freezer for is to preserve some of the abundance of the farmers' market during the growing season.

In most cases, eating something at the moment of harvest feels right--sweet potatoes in October, root vegetables in January, asparagus in May and corn in July.  But there are some preparations that don't seem to be appropriate eating for the season in which the ingredients actually grow. Corn Chowder is a good example. It just doesn't feel right to eat a hearty and hot soup in the middle of July. That same bowl of soup tastes oh-so-good in the middle of January. Not only is it warming and nourishing—it's like a bright ray of sunshine on the darkest of winter days.

Many of the vegetables of summer do not freeze well—tomatoes for example. (But you can make tomato sauce that freezes beautifully.) Others, like sweet corn, freeze very well in their natural state. Fresh shell beans fall into this category. Dried shell beans cannot compare to the creamy texture and delicate taste of fresh shell beans (although, I have to admit I have never dried my own--that would be another story altogether, I am sure). The character of the fresh beans is preserved by the freezing process, so I make a special effort to take the time when they are abundant to squirrel some away for the winter.

After the beans have been shelled, they are easy to freeze. Simply drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes, scoop them out (with a sieve or mesh skimmer) and spread them on towels to dry. It is not necessary to shock them in cold water after blanching. The hot beans spread out on the towels will steam themselves dry and cool off very quickly. When they are cool and dry, spread them on sheet pans and freeze them. When they are frozen, pack them in freezer bags. They are then ready to use all winter long in soups, gratins, side dishes and pastas.

Several years ago when I had some Dixie Butter Peas (my very favorite shell bean) left in my freezer when Spring rolled around, I discovered that they made a fine substitute for English Peas—which were not available just yet—in a particular pasta dish that I like. This year I still have some Pink-Eye Purple-Hulled Peas left in the freezer. I thought they would be good in that pasta, too....

Orrechiette with Asparagus, Fresh Shell Beans & Pancetta

1 c. frozen pink-eyed peas (or other favorite shell bean)
2 to 3 T. olive oil
3 oz. pancetta, minced
1 cup thinly sliced spring onions (about 4)
¼ c. finely chopped Italian parsley or 2 T. minced fresh Thyme
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 oz. trimmed thin asparagus spears, cut into ¼-inch lengths on the diagonal (about 1 cup)
salt & pepper
1 lb. Orrechiette pasta
2 to 4 T. butter
1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Place the peas in a sauce pan and cover with water by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to a simmer, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and cook gently until the peas are tender--about 30 to 45 minutes. Add salt to taste about half way through the cooking time. When tender, set aside until ready to use.  (I have drained them in the picture to show how they look when cooked.  Do not drain until ready to use. )

Place the pancetta in a 12-inch sauté pan set over medium heat along with a tablespoon of olive oil. When the pancetta begins to sizzle and render its fat, add the spring onions and parsley and continue to cook until the onions are tender and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add more olive oil if the pancetta is very lean and the pan seems dry. When the onions are tender, add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the asparagus, season lightly with salt and pepper and toss to coat with the seasonings. Add a half cup of the bean cooking liquid and bring to a simmer.

Cover and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the asparagus is almost tender—6 to 10 minutes. Drain the peas and add. Continue to cook for a minute or two until the asparagus is tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

While the sauce is cooking, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add the pasta to the sauce, along with the butter. Stir or toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce and the butter has emulsified into the sauce. If the pasta seems dry, add some of the pasta water. Serve topped with grated cheese, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

  • If spring onions are unavailable, use finely diced shallots.
  • You may use fresh or frozen English peas instead of the shell beans. If using fresh, add with the asparagus. If frozen, thaw and add when the asparagus is almost done, just to heat through. If using peas, add chicken stock with the asparagus (in place of the bean cooking liquid).
  • You may also use fava beans--add them (after double peeling) as you would the frozen peas. The inspirational recipe for this dish from Janet Fletcher's Fresh from the Farmers' Market used favas.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Wish that I could say I utilize my freezer in the same way....what goes in rarely comes out unless into the trash. Spring cleaning goal is to unload and start over. This blog will be my inspiration to get my freezer act together. Looks yummy!