Crostini with Pea Puree

Crostini is really just a fancy Italian way of saying little toasts.  If you want an infinite food canvas, crostini is a fabulous appetizer finger food.  What you top the little toast with is entirely up to you: tomato bruschetta, mushrooms, pesto, roasted eggplant, the possibilities are endless.  This recipe comes courtesy of the cookbook The Best of Food & Wine The Italian Collection.

To make crostini, simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then slice up a baguette (the long, skinny bread) into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Bake for about 5-6 minutes, until they are your desired crispiness.

For our Celebrate Spring Dinner, (other recipes from this dinner include To-Die-For Hot Fudge Sundae Sauce, Spring Salad with shaved asparagus, Chicken in a Fennel Mushroom sauce, and Spinach with Raisins and Pine nuts) I decided to try my hand at a pea puree, and, for the first time ever, try to actually shell my own peas.  Sure, you could just use a 10 ounce bag of frozen peas, but it’s more fun to get your hands dirty and play with your food.Plus, peas are actually quite beautiful when you reveal them like treasure from their protective shell.  The alive green color, the dew-like water droplets that you find on some of the round globes; peas are just playful vegetables.You’ll need about 2 cups of fresh peas, or 1 10-ounce bag of frozen peas, 5 cloves of garlic DON’T PEEL THEM (if you feel daring, like me, use 1 entire small head), and about 1/3 pound thinly sliced pancetta (about 5 ounces; just get it from the deli counter), plus some extra virgin olive oli, salt, and pepper.1.  Chop up 2-3 slices of the pancetta, enough to get 1/2 cup.  Cook this 1/2 cup of pancetta over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.
2.  Remove cooked pancetta and place in a side bowl. “Roast” the garlic cloves by putting them, skin and all, in the pancetta juices (alright, fat).  Cook until well browned.  Remove skins and place in a food processor.
3.  Add remaining pancetta to the garlic in the food processor.  Puree.
4.  Place puree back in your saute pan with about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Add fresh peas and about 1/4 cup of water, enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Cover and allow peas to steam for about 20 minutes.  (Frozen peas will not need any water and will only take 10 minutes max)  If you have it, you can add a couple of springs of fresh parsley at this point, completely optional.
5.  Place everything back in the food processor and puree until smooth and creamy.  Add salt and pepper to your taste.  You could also add some lemon juice at this point to give the puree a tang.
6.  Spread on top of crostini and sprinkle the cooked pancetta on top.

According to this cookbook, peas are a classic Easter ingredient for Italian cooking.  Usually served whole, they are part of the first spring vegetables representing new life.  This recipe twists tradition in a tasty way.

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