Recipe below: Emmer Primavera with Asparagus, Peas, Radishes, and Mint
There’s absolutely nothing springlike going on at my New York Greenmarkets yet, not even those unappealing fiddleheads. So I’m off in dreamland, thinking about all the good stuff to come. And this has gotten me reflecting on peas. I mean shell peas, or English peas, as they’re sometimes called. It’s too early for local ones here, but frozen ones aren’t half bad, and they’re often even better than fresh, since they’re held in a cryogenic state at the peak of ripeness or somewhere close. Often when I get peas still in their pods at the Union Square Market in Manhattan, they’ve already gone from eat-out-of-hand sweet to starchy and dull. That happens quickly with peas. I guess the drive down from Hudson is sometimes just too much for them.
I’m usually okay with frozen peas except for a couple of things. I find their uniformity upsetting. I understand they’re sorted by size, but why bother? And how are they so dark green? The seasonal peas at my market are various sizes and lighter in color. I guess Monsanto, or whoever is in charge of monotony in vegetables these days, has got that little soldier look down. Lately, instead of Birds Eye and the like, I’ve been buying frozen organic peas. They’re all the same size, too, but at least most that I’ve tried aren’t that disturbing dark green color.
I don’t have local asparagus or radishes yet either, but something was calling me to make this dish ahead of schedule. And it was good. I can’t wait to try it when I’ve got my hands on the real deal. Should be excellent.
I’ve used emmer for this dish, one of the three wheat grains that can be labeled farro (the two others are spelt and einkorn). At my Greenmarket I find straight, unpearled emmer, grown in upstate New York. It’s a rich tasting grain. Since it’s got the whole germ intact, it takes a little longer to cook than pearled farro, but it also has more nutrients, and it digests slower, something to keep in mind if you’ve got high blood sugar. If you can find local wheat berries near you, do yourself a favor and buy some, whatever the variety. The deep, wheat aroma that rose up from the pot while I was cooking this, with its undertones of sweet and bitter, was remarkable. Now I know what old-fashioned wheat is supposed to taste like.
Emmer Primavera with Asparagus, Peas, Radishes, and Mint
1½ cups emmer (or supermarket farro)
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
A big bunch of fairly thin asparagus, the tough ends trimmed, the stalks sliced on an angle into approximately 1-inch pieces
1 cup freshly shucked peas, or use frozen
4 French breakfast radishes, sliced thinly on an angle, leaving any radish leaves intact if possible
3 scallions, chopped, using much of the tender green part
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
About 6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A splash of dry Marsala
½ cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
A tiny drizzle of rice wine vinegar
A handful of spearmint sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped, plus about 6 nice-looking sprigs for garnish
Put the wheat in a saucepan, and cover it with water by about 4 inches. Add salt. Bring it to a boil, and then turn the heat down a touch, and let it cook at a lively bubble, uncovered, until the wheat is tender to the bite. My unpearled emmer took about 40 minutes. Supermarket farro, in my experience, goes faster. Just taste-test every so often.
While the wheat is cooking, set up a big pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus, and cook for about 30 seconds. Now add the peas, and cook about 30 seconds longer. Drain in a colander, and then cool under cold running water to bring up their green color. Drain well.
When the wheat is tender, drain it, and pour it into a nice-looking serving bowl. Drizzle on a little olive oil, and cover to keep warm.
In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil with a tablespoon of butter over medium-high flame. Add the scallions, the asparagus, and the peas. Season with salt, nutmeg, coriander seed, black pepper, and thyme. Sauté until everything is fragrant but still has a bit of bite to it. Add the radish slices, and just warm them through. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a minute. Add the chicken or vegetable stock and the rice wine vinegar, and let it all simmer for about a minute. Turn off the heat, and add a fresh lump of butter, stirring it in.
Pour the asparagus mix onto the wheat, add a drizzle of fresh olive oil and the chopped mint, and toss. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, black pepper, a little more vinegar, or a drizzle more broth if it needs moisture. Top with the mint sprigs, and serve warm.