Spring Pea Pesto

Spring Pea Pesto
April and May are the trickiest months to figure out what to wear. One day it’s sunny and 70, and the next it’s rainy and 45. I have finally accepted that no matter how much time I spend scanning my closet, I am going to be dressed for the wrong season. Right now I feel that way in the kitchen, too. We are still a month away from farmer’s market season kicking-off in Chicago, and I have no idea what to eat.

On a bright but cool day, I made spring pea pesto using frozen peas. When the fresh ones appear at the market, I will whip up another batch, but for now frozen are the perfect way to navigate this awkward transition. Scallions gave the pesto more flavor and dimension than just garlic alone while lemon and Pecorino added a distinct zip to the peas. I tossed the pesto with fusilli for an early spring meal.

Spring Pea Pesto
Spring Pea Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1-10 ounce package frozen peas, thawed or 1-1/2 cups fresh peas
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 scallion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1 ounce Pecorino cheese, grated
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the peas for 2-3 minutes until they are just tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peas to a bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking. Drain the peas once they have cooled.

Pulse the garlic and scallions in the bowl of a food processor until they are minced. Add the peas, almonds, Pecorino, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Puree the mixture and while the motor is running, drizzle the olive oil through the feeder tube until the pesto is fully combined.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nisu or Pulla Bread

Nisu or Pulla
While J. and I were living in London, we took advantage of a bank holiday weekend and ventured to Helsinki. I had always wanted to go somewhere in Scandinavia, and with J.’s quarter Finnish heritage, it was an easy choice. On our list of must-sees for design and architecture were Alvar Aalto, Iittala and Marimekko. Our must-eat was a cardamom-spiced bread that J. enjoyed on special occasions while growing up.

Known as nisu or pulla bread to modern Finns, this loaf is typically served with coffee or tea. The distinct scent of cardamom lasted for days in the kitchen as we sliced our way through the bread for breakfast and for an afternoon snack. Braiding the loaves and sprinkling them with sliced almonds and lump sugar gave them a bakery-worthy look that took J. back to his childhood and both of us to that weekend in Helsinki.

Nisu or Pulla
Nisu Bread
Adapted from Saveur

Makes 2 loaves

For dough
1-1/3 cups milk, heated to 115 degrees F
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 – 1/4 oz. packages dry active yeast
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
5 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting work surface
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For egg wash
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk
Pearl sugar (optional)
Slivered almonds (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the milk, sugar, cardamom and yeast and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in the eggs and then add the flour and salt. When the dough begins to form, switch to a dough hook and knead for 2 minutes. Add the butter gradually over 3-4 minutes of kneading. Once the butter is incorporated, knead by hand for an additional 5 minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place the dough in a warm spot to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and allow it to rise for an additional 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. For the first loaf, take 1 piece of dough and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Roll each into a 16-inch rope and braid as shown in the diagram above. Repeat for the second loaf. Transfer the loaves to the prepared sheet pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the loaves sit for 45 minutes until they rise slightly.

Whisk together the egg yolk and milk. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with slivered almonds and pearl sugar (if using).

Bake each loaf separately for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Beet Grilled Cheese

Beet Grilled Cheese
Monday through Friday, lunch is always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with carrot sticks. I don’t mind the repetition. When I barely have a moment to eat, I find that routine simplicity just hits the spot. Anyway, I would rather get more creative with dinner, when if all goes as planned, I have time to cook and savor a meal that’s a bit more involved.

Lunch on the weekends is an entirely different story. I scour the pantry and fridge to come up with something from what I already have at home. Last weekend I roasted a couple of bunches of beets. Along with goat cheese, scallions and arugula, I made a beet grilled cheese sandwich. Every toasty, olive oil-drizzled bite celebrated the perfect pairing of beets and goat cheese. 

Beet Grilled Cheese
Beet Grilled Cheese

Makes 2 sandwiches

5-6 medium red and yellow beets, greens removed and reserved for another use
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 slices crusty bread
3 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 handful arugula

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the beets and place them on individual sheets of aluminum foil. Drizzle the beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold into loose packets and transfer to a sheet pan. Roast the beets for 50-60 minutes until they are easily pierced with a knife.

Let the beets cool slightly before using a paper towel to rub off their skins. Cut them into thin slices.

To assemble the sandwiches, drizzle the remaining olive oil on both sides of the bread. Spread the goat cheese and sprinkle the scallions on one side of each of the bread slices. Arrange the beets and arugula and top with the remaining bread.

Place the sandwiches on a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Cook until both sides are browned and toasted, about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

Graham Crackers

Graham Crackers
At 4 months old, we are on the cusp of feeding W. his first solid foods. Even though those initial bites will be mushy fruit and veggie purees, I can’t help but think ahead to him enjoying my childhood favorites that I still look forward to nibbling on today. Of course I do hope that W. will be a more adventurous eater than I was in my picky, plain-eating youth.

Blurring the line between snack and dessert, graham crackers were a perfect after-school treat. I especially loved the ones that came coated with a dusting of cinnamon sugar. I hadn’t bought a box in years, so I decided to bake a batch from scratch. Smearing the molasses and honey-spiked grahams with peanut butter took me right back to being a kid. 

Graham Crackers
Graham Crackers
Adapted from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It by Karen Solomon

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen

1-1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt and baking powder. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles the size of peas. Add the honey, molasses, milk, vanilla extract and 1/3 cup sugar and process until a dough forms. Pat the dough into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll out each section until it is 1/4-inch thick. Using a 2-1/2-inch square biscuit cutter, cut out the graham crackers. Reroll the scraps and continue cutting out the graham crackers. Repeat with the remaining dough. Prick the graham crackers with a fork and transfer them to the prepared sheet pans.

In a small bowl combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the graham crackers with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the edges have darkened slightly. Cool the crackers completely on a wire rack before serving.

Store in an airtight container.

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