Living in San Francisco you learn to see beauty in a spare gray landscape. Along those lines, there’s something intriguing about shopping the farmers market in the dead of winter. Making joy out of kale, chard and… kale. And then–just as you’re pondering the next potato-and-something-green soup–spring hits.
The change in people’s personalities is vivid, and I see it most when strawberries come into season. Everybody is smiling. Parents are sharing plump ripe berries with little ones in strollers. Clothes are flecked with indelible red juice and nobody cares. Cherries and other stone fruits started to make an appearance this week and brought another huge wave of thrills and chills.
On the savory side, my current spring favorites are the fresh bright green English shelling peas. I don’t want to muddy the waters by cooking them even a little. I want them raw, combined with a few great quality ingredients to enhance their flavor. If you keep it simple, this recipe is like a little bite of spring on a cracker.
Green Pea, Feta, Basil Spread (makes about 1 cup/240ml)
1 lb. (450g) English shelling peas (shelled you’ll have about 5 oz./150g)
2 oz. (60g) good quality sheep’s milk feta
4 leaves fresh basil
1 Tbsp. (15ml) good quality extra virgin olive oil*
Black pepper and salt to taste
Baguette, crackers, sliced veg such as radish, carrot, beets, rutabaga to serve.
*When my cousin George would come for dinner he would go into the kitchen and critique my olive oil. I think you need to be related to someone to do this, but he’d open the bottle and stick his nose right in there and frown. “It’s gone off,” he’d say. At the time I would think, “mind your own olive oil.” But he was right. I would keep a bottle around for ages, in the light, next to the stove absorbing all the heat. For recipes like this one, the basic “the recipe calls for a little oil this will do” doesn’t fly.
Shell the peas.
Add the peas, feta, basil, oil, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt to a food processor and pulse until you have a nearly smooth paste. Adjust the seasonings according to taste. You can use more basil if you like, but you don’t want to overpower the taste of the peas. And you don’t want pesto. Or maybe you do… ?
This spread can be made a day in advance. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.