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.
Sprinkle salt over the chicken.
Transfer the chicken pieces to an oven dish, and dab the olive oil and paprika over both sides of the meat.
Cover 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.
Drain 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.
Cook 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.
Process, 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.
Remember 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.
And 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 …?
Slicing the phyllo pastry into ribbons and …
Crisping it up (it only takes seconds) with some olive oil?
Genius, 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.
Step one. The pea mash.
Step two: the unmashed peas.
Step there: a shower of crispy phyllo pastry.
Presentation, repeat, not brilliant … but it tasted nice enough and that’s what counts.