Putting the Posh in Peas (and Chicken)

I don’t buy a lot of frozen food generally speaking, that is except for peas.  Most of the year I buy frozen peas.  When fresh peas are in season, however, it is such a joy to have them to cook with (not so much a joy having to shell them but that’s another story).  Anyway, I got hold of some fresh peas a few weeks ago, still in their pod, and enticed my mother who was staying with us into shelling them.  She did after all say she wanted to be of help … I was just doing the kind thing.

Today’s recipe is one I was inspired to try out from a rather posh recipe book with beautiful photos, truly artistic (once I find the book I can tell you the title).  The recipe in question seemed straightforward enough so off I trotted to get all the ingredients. By the time I got around to cooking, however, it was getting very late and I had to hurry things up a bit because people were getting hungry for their dinner – so in the end presentation was the least of my worries.  As you will see, the final plate looks a bit of a mess but I promise you it tasted fine, just fine.

When I teach people how to make fresh pasta, I tell them that it is a very forgiving recipe – it’s very hard to get it wrong.  “And,” I reassure them, “if things really do go downhill, at the end of the day we are talking about wasting some flour and eggs – we are not talking caviar!”  Pasta is not supposed to be ‘posh’, just ‘simple’ and delicious.  Delicious in its simplicity.  With today’s recipe, I am taking the opposite stance.  I am turning some basic, ‘simple’ ingredients, and wanting to present them as grander than they are.  And that’s because we all deserve a bit of grand now and then, don’t you agree?

INGREDIENTS: chicken breast, olive oil, paprika, fresh peas, onions, lemon, fresh mint leaves, butter, phyllo pastry


In this ambitious photo (I’m standing on a stool in an attempt to get an overhead clean vista of the ingredients) you can see some chicken breast that I cut into similar-sized pieces, fresh peas, and a bowl containing olive oil, its peculiar colour having been brought about by the addition of liberal pinches of paprika.

2Sprinkle salt over the chicken.

3Transfer the chicken pieces to an oven dish, and dab the olive oil and paprika over both sides of the meat.

5Cover with clingfilm/saran wrap/gladwrap or whatever it is you call this marvellous invention that I love to hate.  I can never get it right, it always sticks to my fingers somehow.  So, yes, it looks a bit crumpled but I did manage to get it to be air-tight.  I then placed the chicken in the fridge for about one hour.

Prepare an ice bath – basically, just a bowl with cold water and ice cubes in it.  And then proceed to cook the fresh peas until they are done.  To be honest, I can’t remember how long that took – but longer than one would think.  Fresh peas take their time to reach the the point of perfection.

8Drain and quickly transfer the peas in the ice bath to cool down.  Drain again and separate the peas into two containers.


And now on with cooking the chicken.


12Cook the chicken on both sides until browned but not entirely cooked through.  Then place in the oven dish and continue cooking in a low-temperature oven for about 15-20 minutes (150°C let us say) until you think they are cooked (no raw chicken).

And now let us deal with the peas.

Add fresh mint leaves and a squirt of lemon juice to the peas in the glass bowl.

14Process, add a little bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt – and taste, taste, taste until you can pronounce what you taste finger-licking-good.  Set aside.

16Remember the other bowl of cooked peas?  Well, soften/cook some onions with butter in a saucepan, and then add the peas and some salt and pepper.  (Sorry, no photo to show you at this point).  Set aside.

A lot of setting aside, isn’t there.

17And then I had a brainwave.  I happened to have some phyllo pastry in the freezer that always gave me baleful looks when I opened the freezer door, as if to say: WHEN are you going to use me up?  The fateful moment had finally arrived … how about …?

18Slicing the phyllo pastry into ribbons and …

19Crisping it up (it only takes seconds) with some olive oil?

20Genius, right?  It was very oily because I was in a hurry, and I had to pat it down quite a bit with kitchen paper (and next time I might do this in the oven instead).  But it did indeed add a bit of crunch factor to the final presentation.

Time to plate up.

21Step one.  The pea mash.

22Step two: the unmashed peas.

23Step there: a shower of crispy phyllo pastry.

Presentation, repeat, not brilliant … but it tasted nice enough and that’s what counts.


Lentil and Orange Salad

I  mentioned this salad in a post I wrote a few months back about a super Sicilian-styled lunch chez Stefania Barzini.  I asked her subsequently for the recipe and tried it out.  It wasn’t quite as good as what we ate at her house but still, good enough to want to repeat, which is always comforting.   I think it was the quality of the lentils I used that was the ‘problem’.  For this recipe, the smaller and longer-to-cook lentil, the better: it will retain its shape suitable for a salad.  Silly me, I should have used the famous lentils from the area of Castelluccio in Umbria, which are nearly always what I do use.  Anway, enough with the mortification and on with the recipe.

INGREDIENTS: lentils, olive oil, a few shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 2 oranges and 2 lemons (like the Bells of Saint Clement’s) plus another half lemon for the  final touch, fresh mint leaves and, if you like, and I do indeed like, a few chilli flakes


Stew some shallots and 1 clove of garlic with some olive oil in a deep saucepan, until softened.  Over a low heat.


Add the lentils.IMG_3239Cut one of the oranges and the two lemons in half and place them over the lentils as shown in the photo.


Pour enough water to cover the lentils and turn the heat on.  Sprinkle some salt too.

IMG_3241I can’t remember how long I cooked the lentils – but basically we are cooking them until they are done!

IMG_3247Once cooked, drain the lentils, remove the citrus fruits and wait for the lentils to cool.  Transfer into a salad bowl, season with plenty of olive oil and salt, and then add the juice of half a lemon (or more if you prefer).  Taste, see if more olive oil is required – cooked lentils are guzzlers for oil.

IMG_3253I did not take a final photo of this dish – the photo you see here is just before I poured more olive oil  to anoint the salad.  As you can see, I  had peeled the other orange and cut it into slices, as well as adding fresh mint leaves.  I did not add chilli flakes to the salad bowl (fresh chilli would be even better) because not everyone likes the heat – I sprinkled some over my own helping naturally!  Very simple ingredients for a very tasty salad.

Sweetening up Red Peppers – Peperoni in Agrodolce

I love red peppers, capsicum, or ‘peperoni’ as they are called in Italian.  (In American English the word ‘peperoni’ somehow came to mean a kind of salami, a salami to garnish pizza; I don’t know how that came about, linguistically speaking.)

What I do know is that peppers come into their own when Summer months make them abound in Mediterranean climates – but for decades now these formerly warm-weather vegetables have been available all year round.  I normally eschew vegetables that are out of season but give in to the impulse now and then.  Even so, I like to think that I am ‘canny’ and know that a red pepper this time of year will taste nothing like its relatives a few months down the road.  In other words, the out-of-season pepper needs a little bit of help.  Hence today’s recipe, which includes sugar and raisins.

INGREDIENTS: Red peppers, onions, peppercorns, raisins, sugar, white wine vinegar, pine kernels, fresh mint leaves

0Begin by soaking the raisins in some hot water – or even some sweet wine or sherry if you prefer.

1Slice the onions, shower with olive oil and add a few peppercorns (I love whole pepper, it always imparts a subtle taste that somehow makes the dish taste better).

2Turn on the heat, over a low flame, cover and cook.  I checked my clock and I cooked the onions for 15 minutes.


While the onions were stewing away, I got on with cutting the red peppers and slicing them into a match-stick or finger shape.

4Dribble olive oil over these too and cook, again, over a low flame.


Here are the onions after 15 minutes of cooking time.


Add the onions to the peppers.


Time to add salt – I like to use the French sel de Guérande salt in most of my cooking. I like its ‘sweetness’.

8Don’t by shy with your salt.  If you look closely at this photo, you can see that I sprinkled quite a lot – but believe me, the end result was not at all salty, on the contrary.  Salt is a miracle of an ingredient: it draws out the taste from the food in question.  No salt, no taste.

9I cooked the onions and peppers for another few minutes, until I liked the consistency of the peppers.  There is no ‘crunch’ to them.  They have to have a bit of ‘bite’ to them, naturally, otherwise they would lose their appeal.  But at the same time, this ‘bite’ is a silky mellow one.  Turn the heat off.

10This photo looks like something out of a space ship, very weird, I know.  But what it is, is a few teaspoons of sugar drowning in some white vinegar.

11I then transferred the sugar and vinegar to a teensy pot and brought it to the boil.  I deftly tasted the vinegar and it was far too ‘vinegary’ with the amount of sugar I had imagined would suffice, so had to had double !  And here is a rule that always obtains in the kitchen: always taste taste taste.  The vinegar is ready when it becomes pleasantly sweet.  The phone rang just at that point and off I went, glass of wine in hand (it was definitely “wine o’clock” by then) to put the world to rights with one of my sisters living in England.  Talk talk talk, sip, banter banter banter, sip, this that and the other, sip, oh my goodness it’s getting late must dash, final sip from the wine glass. Love you loads, bye bye.

12Back to the kitchen and using a wooden spoon I laid out the peppers and onions like a wreath.  The puddle you see in the middle are the juices of the peppers and onions, coupled with the olive oil.


This was just before I poured the sugared vinegar into the puddle in the middle.  It looks like a glassful, wouldn’t you say?

14I turned the heat on again, and now added the drained raisins.   There is always something celebratory about raisins, I don’t why, don’t you think?

15Toasted a handful of pine kernels (be careful when doing so, they are ‘treacherous’, they can burn in an instant, so do keep a beady eye on them).

16And voilà, ta daaa ! The finished dish.  Switch the heat off.  And serve at room temperature.

I actually served it the following day and it was much appreciated I am glad to say.


Add fresh mint leaves just before serving.  The mint and sugar vinegariness combine beautifully with the caramelised onions and the slowly stewed peppers.

18And the olive oil, naturally, does its part too.  As you can see, the oil drops to the bottom of the dish together with the juices and the person can choose just how much to drizzle over the veggies.  If, like me, you can’t get enough of Italian bread and adore the naughty ‘thing’ of mopping up a sauce with morsels of said bread (etiquette says it’s a no-no but we all do it, it’s called “fare la scarpetta” – making a little shoe), this dish could be truly dangerous.


P.S. Read all about “making the shoe” in the post I wrote a while ago on the subject: