I am an “out-of-the-box” girl. I’ve never been content to think conventionally, especially when it comes to cooking & creating menus. To me, it’s more fun to create a dish that utilizes an ingredient in an unexpected way. It’s an experiment, & I love experimenting. I also love experimenting when I entertain, as I enjoy the feedback from my guests when I do use an ingredient in an unusual way. It’s fun to see their expressions when I tell them what they’re eating. The element of surprise is what I enjoy most. That definitely was the case in this menu, when I decided to think of “out-of-the-box” ways to use Rhubarb & Peas.
Let’s start with peas. Have you ever experimented with peas, especially when these little green jewels are in season? You should. Peas are incredibly versatile. I love throwing fresh peas into a creamy pasta dish, say Pasta with Prosciutto & Peas, but have you ever thought about using peas in an appetizer? These guys are truly undervalued.
About three years ago, my friend, Carrie & I collaborated on a Spring menu. I was buying goat cheese in Whole Foods Market when I spied the fresh peas…shelled, in a bag…I had to have them. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with them, but I didn’t care. They were so beautiful! Over a glass of wine while menu planning, we began brainstorming…peas & mint are delicious together. Should we throw in goat cheese & lemon? Sure, why not? The worst thing will be…everyone will hate it. Not so. Minted Pea & Goat Cheese Dip is here to stay. To date, no one has figured out the main ingredient in this appetizer, as the goat cheese and sweet pea flavor really compliment each other, but there’s no real standout flavor…the dip just works.
I love serving the dip with assorted radishes, which are beautiful at the farmer’s market right now, as well as cucumbers. My favorite, though, are potato chips! Wonton chips are delicious as well, as are lavash crackers.
Because it’s Spring, we need a cocktail…the Springtini, another creation of Carrie’s, which is simply yummy & easy to drink…& skinny…a total plus as we embark on swimsuit season. Sorry…no peas or rhubarb in the cocktail…if you’re also an “out-of-the-box” person, try Rhubarbaritas or Rhubarb Mango Tea Punch…both are refreshing on a hot day, and the tart rhubarb balances the sweetness in both cocktails.
Rhubarb & peas are both in the main entrée, and rhubarb is used in a savory chicken dish. First of all, do you like rhubarb? Have you ever cooked with it? When most of us hear the word rhubarb, what immediately comes to mind is usually “pie“. I do love it in desserts, but it can be used so many ways. Rhubarb is extremely versatile, and is fantastic when used in savory dishes…
…such as Rhubarb & Vidalia-Smothered Chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are pan-seared, then are simmered in a reduction of sweet Vidalia onions, honey, ginger, lemon & white wine. The deliciously tart rhubarb is added last so it retains its color & doesn’t fall apart as it cooks & softens. The chicken breasts are plated, the sauce is combined & reduced just a smidge more, then the chicken is smothered, as I am a “sauce girl”!
We served, as a side dish, Lemon Saffron Couscous with…you guessed it…peas & mint. Is this completely out of the box with the peas? Probably not, but I love the presentation of the peas & couscous together! I am a big fan of pearl, or Israeli, Couscous. It’s so easy to make & it takes no time at all…lemon & saffron flavor the couscous, & the peas, mint & garlic scapes are mixed into the couscous just before serving. You are probably asking, “What are garlic scapes”? The scape is the flower of the garlic bulb, and is deliciously mild compared to the cloves. I put them in everything while they’re in season. Cornerstone Garlic Farm sells them locally…once you try scapes, you will be hooked. Serve the couscous in radicchio “cups”…all you do is remove the outer, thinner leaves, and the medium-sized leaves sit perfectly on a dinner plate to hold the couscous & the leaves add a bit of color, which makes the plate much more appealing & not so monochromatic.
When we originally created this menu, we served Asparagus with Morel Butter, but I could not find any pretty asparagus, so I went to Plan B…a new side dish. Farlow Farms, another great local farm, has been carrying beautiful fennel, so I decided to buy some one Saturday morning. I had recently read a fennel recipe on The Kitchn, and I was inspired to prepare a dish using fennel & shallots. I also used fresh orange juice & zest, as well as Blood Orange Olive Oil from Midtown Olive Oil. The fennel & shallots caramelized beautifully in the olive oil, orange juice & zest. I finished the dish with a sprinkle of sea salt & fennel fronds…& voilà! Dinner is served. I actually prefer…as everyone else did…the sweet, citrusy licorice fennel & shallots with the lemony & saffron-flavored couscous & tart-sweet, gingery chicken.
Lastly, dessert. I did go mainstream here…to an extent. I did combine rhubarb & strawberries, but I decided to make a gluten-free crumble using Cup4Cup. I have been baking with Cup4Cup for a quite some time, and I cannot say enough about it. This stuff rocks! Then again, anything created from the staff at The French Laundry under the auspices of Thomas Keller, one of the country’s foremost chefs, is probably going to be good, if not great. Anyhoo, yes, I made a crumble. Now for a quick lesson,,,what is the difference between a crumble & a crisp? Oats. Yep, oats are in a crisp topping, but not in a crumble topping. That’s all. Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble is not a particularly sweet dessert, as there is only a ½-cup sugar combined with the fruit, You really can taste the strawberries & rhubarb, as well as hints of ginger & vanilla. The Crumble, though, has brown sugar, butter, ginger & Cup4Cup, and is crunchy & sweet. With it being strawberry season right now, you do not want to miss out on this dessert. Serve the crumble warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.
For me, entertaining is an opportunity to experiment. I know that makes some of you insecure, but if you simply try something different with just one ingredient, you may surprise yourself, your family, and friends with a creation that is delicious & “out-of-the-box” for you. We all have different definitions of what is considered “out-of-the-box” for ourselves. So, this week, do something different. Just try it and see…or, you can use one of these recipes, as I have repeatedly made this menu, tweaked it, and made it again…& I cannot thank all my guinea pigs enough for their help…John & Carole…Carrie, of course, & her posse…Stacy & Natalie…Joy & Katherine…& my own family, who puts up with all the “out-of-the-box” things I do every day. Cheers!
A Spring Menu Featuring Rhubarb & Peas
Minted Pea & Goat Cheese Dip
served with assorted radishes, cucumbers & chips
Your Favorite French Rosé