What to do with the bounty of vivid, fresh spring produce,a smidgeon of dairy, some crunchy sea salt, perhaps prosciutto garnish? There’s an app for that. And a story.
I always liked the idea of a cooking club. Like-minded food fans coming together to cook for each other in an evening of mutual admiration and permissible gorging. So, one time at a party, when I was probably yarning onabout something like paprika varietals with a business acquaintance, he and I made a fast connection. It’s like when ex-pats find each other in Mumbai. Don’t tell anyone, but would kill for a charred rib-eye?
In that instant he said, you should meet Madonna. Omg, could he mean the material girl also obsesses over pimeton and now we’ll hang out and Lourdes and Kendall can become besties? Or might this Madonna be some spice overlord who knows that I just misspelled pimeton? It’s pimentón and, no it doesn’t belong in any salad. Turns out this Madonna, a woman who’s as beautiful as she is kind, spearheads a cooking club. I said, I am so in. BTW, if you’re thinking John Oliver is affecting my writing. I say to you…and now this.
Last weekend, we had our first cooking club dinner. The theme was spring and I was in charge of appetizers. What I love about this group is that they try new recipes, that night. These aren’t people who need the perfect Thomas Keller meal. That happened long ago in their culinary pursuits. For cooking club, they want to aspire and to learn. It was liberating. So, I was chill and just shopped that morning at the farmer’s market. I knew a crushed pea crostini would be involved – some sharing among participants is important to avoid four courses of pasta (that would be bad, why?) – and maybe I would throw in mint pea shooters if I could find shelled peas. I could not, but instead I found gorgeous french radishes (d’avignons, for you radish enthusiasts) and so I enhanced my game plan. Remember, I had burrata and prosciutto to fall back on. Not sure of amounts, I shelled two pounds of peas which took longer than expected, and all of sudden I was in crunchtime, so I had to shell peas in the car. Crunchtimers, this recipe is perfectly fine with frozen peas. The rest was so, so easy.
I was confident in my prep and tasting, but then I arrived at the scene and served my food. What was I thinking, first-timer, serving first – like a virgin? I didn’t even know how much pre-apologizing to do. The clubbers ate all of the appetizers and they all provided effusive admiration. But, it’s a funny thing about a cooking club, there’s so much appreciation and enthusiasm for the cook that you’re not quite sure how everyone really feels. It’s like when parents tell their kids over and over again how smart they are, the takeaway for the kids (and this is proven) is that they can feel pandered to and actually not smart. Rather than being totally liberating, I found that I over explained my choices and divulged all of my challenges. I wasn’t alone, the club veterans did the same thing. Then I realized, this is what we do. We are not apologizing, we’re obsessing over pimentón.
The best part was a 4-hour dining experience with fabulous food: vegetable/farro salad, mushroom/gorgonzola lasagna with garlic toasts, meyer lemon crème brÃ»lée. Madonna expressed herself with a surprise closer, mint leaves slathered in white chocolate. The conversation was energized by this prompt, if you were on a desert island with only one song, what would it be? And like a virgin, I blurted out – not something cool like Freebird, not something both timeless and thematic like Gimme Shelter, not something inspired like My Sweet Lord, and not even something strategically varied like Bohemian Rhapsody, no I said – Build Me Up Buttercup and for the next hour, made excuses about that choice.
We volunteered to host next time. The host comes up with the theme, prepares the main course and signature drink, and provides all of the beverages. I’m thinking “glamping” for our summer theme; anything smoked, grilled, al fresco or camping inspired. And no dogs or apologies allowed.
preptime: 20 min (pea crostini) 5 min (buttered radishes) servings: 4-6 for appetizers
smashed pea crostini
- 1 cup fresh peas or frozen (Birds Eye, the best according to America’s Test Kitchen)
- 1/8 cup grated pecorino cheese (try parm or ricotta)
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- burrata cheese (you will only need about 1/3-1/2 cup)
- small french bread loaf
- olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- For fresh peas, bring a salted pot of water to a boil. Salt brightens the peas color. Add the peas and cook for 1-2 minutes. Drain, then run under cold water until the peas are cooled. For frozen, just let them thaw or you can run under cold water to encourage the thawing time.
- Remove the moisture from the peas with paper towels.
- In a bowl, smash peas with fork. Or better, in a food processor, pulse about 30 seconds
- Add in cheese, pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and blend some more.
- Slice bread into 1/2″ slices.
- Brush light coating of olive oil on both sides. Toast in the oven. I use a toaster oven set on “toast” for 2 minutes and then turn over and toast another 2 minutes. Let cool.
For assembly: Spread about 1 Tbsp. pea mixture onto toast, then about 1 tsp of burrata and topped with a swirled pinch of prosciutto.
- use frozen peas
- make peas ahead of time and assemble when ready to serve
butter dipped french radishes
preptime: 5 min 4-6 servings
- one bunch of french radishes, cleaned, leaves clipped, and dried
- one stick of butter (you will not use all of this)
- flaky sea salt or maldon or what you have
- Prepare a cookie sheet or flat plate that will fit in your refrigerator. Line with parchment or plastic wrap.
- Next, we will slowly soften the butter to a consistency of like a cream soup. Thin enough to dip and lightly coat the radish, but thick enough to coast well. Place the butter into a deepish, narrow, microwavable bowl – just wide enough for a radish is really all you need. The narrower the bowl, the less butter you need.
- Start microwaving at 15 seconds, then stir. Continue in 10 sec increments until you reach the desired consistency. If it melts too much, just stick in the freezer for a second.
- Dip each radish into the butter and place onto the cookie sheet.
- Sprinkle with salt before the butter hardens.
- Place in refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.