Photo by SanFranAnnie/FlickrCC
"Mashed" must be on my mind because I had this very, very good little appetizer at Bar Bambino in the Mission District while I was in San Francisco not long ago. It was actually so good I stopped back a second time later in the week to eat it again. The idea was an obvious one once I had it, but I've never seen it anywhere else, so I figured it was worth sharing here.
I've long loved fresh peas. I wait for them every spring to make the Venetian Risi e Bisi (risotto with fresh peas, best made with the small grained Vialone Nano). I like peas for salads, soups, pastas, etc. Anyways, this dish was especially easy for me to make because even if you're lazy like I am, you can buy already shelled fresh peas out at the market. It's cheaper, of course, to shell 'em yourself, but time is tight for me so...
Eat it while it's warm and appreciate the season!
In any case, to make this, simply cook the raw peas in just a bit of salted water, 'til they're tender (or, alternatively, you can steam them). If you're not used to cooking peas, they take longer than you'd think. Maybe 15 minutes of slowish simmering. When they're very soft, drain well. Mash them and mix with good olive oil. Add some salt and black pepper. Add a few leaves of chopped fresh mint. Let the mash sit for 10 or 15 minutes, then taste it for salt and pepper.
Add a bit more olive oil and mix well--I include this seemingly unneeded step of adding more oil because, other than a few folks like Faith Willinger, Joyce Goldstein, Paula Wolfert, and Majid Mahjoub who have all (among others) taught me tons about how to use good olive oil (as in, put in a LOT) in their cooking, most folks in this part of the world will underdo it.
A gentle oil would be best so as not to overwhelm the peas. Something from Liguria would be good, but my most obvious choice in the moment would the one from the Mahjoubs. It's very delicious but won't overpower the peas. As Majid Mahjoub said about 16 times during his visit here a few weeks ago, the key of the flavor of the Mahjoub oil is that it must be "subtle."
He generally lowers his voice when he says this to make the audio congruent with the content of what he's saying (though he likes to make his point quite often, which I guess makes his message a bit less congruent in content than in sound). I like to let the mash sit for a bit so that the flavors come together and for the texture to firm up some, but you could serve it right away if you want.
When you're ready to eat, toast a couple slices of Paesano or Rustic Italian bread. Rub it right off with a cut clove of fresh garlic, then spread on the pea mash. On top of that lay on some thin slices of Pecorino cheese--I'm big on the Tuscan ones right now. If you want it a touch mellower, try some of the Vermont Shepherd cheese. Or, if you like your flavors more forceful (I do), move up to the Pecorino Romano we've got from the Sini family.
I actually had some really good, slightly peppery fresh pea shoots from the market, so I threw a handful of those on, too--they look and taste good. In any case, grind on some black pepper and kiss it all with a bit more olive oil and eat. Eat it while it's warm and appreciate the season!