You know what? It’s spring. The air is soft and downy, shot through with veins of light and blossom scent. The sky is bottomless blue, the kind of super-saturated color that makes my teeth ache (no, really). The market stalls are overflowing with bright clamoring produce, so fresh and blink-you’ll-miss-it-seasonal that it’s tempting to bring home bagfuls and just eat it, unadorned.
This is the season when I start to lose patience with fuss. In the winter, I’m perfectly content to hone my kitchen-sink cooking and practice all manner of fancy flourishes. But when the clouds break and the temperatures climb, I want something different altogether. I want fresh, and simple, and clean. I want to really taste spring in my food.
It’s not quite the season for tomatoes, but for a simple weekend supper, tomato sauce and pasta can still command springlike lightness. I’ve seen a recipe floating around for something that I long thought was the hallmark of dullness and disinterest: a pasta sauce with only three ingredients. One of which is butter.
Of course, I’m pretty much incapable of sticking to a three-ingredient recipe. But I restrained myself. I added two seasonings–two!–and stopped there. I cut back one tablespoon of butter, arbitrarily deciding that four tablespoons was excusable but five was utterly beyond the pale. I made up that extra tablespoon with a familiar blorp of olive oil–tomato sauce without olive oil just didn’t seem right. And then I sat on my metaphorical tinkering hands. And fidgeted. And doubted. (I should never have doubted.)
For forty-five minutes, until my little saucepan of dubious distinction began wafting a familiar, homey scent clear across the apartment and into the bedroom where I lay reading a Russian novel.
Okay, so it’s not a dull sauce at all. In fact, it might have been one of the most soothingly recognizable flavors I’ve ever tasted. This is classic Italian-restaurant tomato sauce. It’s the bright-tart intermediary between mozzarella and pizza dough. The clinging red at the end of a mozzarella stick. The agent that makes a tangle of spaghetti blush. No tricks, no frippery. Just basic, American-Italian comfort food. I should sit on my hands more often.
Then there were the peas. The gorgeous shelled English peas I picked up at the market, tossing a couple generous handfuls into my Passover stockpot and squirreling the rest away for selfish, selfish meal-making later. Springtime peas are sweet, firm, bright green and cheerful. They need only the barest dose of heat to make them edible. So I gave it to them.
Now, this is the part of the evening where I demonstrate, once again, that I’m a bit…obsessed. I tend to plan meals around my newest item of cookware. This time, it’s a whisk. A whisk! I never used a whisk in my parents’ kitchen. I had no idea how amazing whisks are. Put some olive oil and lemon juice in the bottom of a bowl, apply the rounded wire tip with a bit of elbow grease, and hey presto, a beautiful creamy whisper of a dressing, perfect for tossing with peas and parmesan and mint–fresh, exotic, unexpected mint. Sometimes I even surprise myself.
So there you go. Tidy bow. Perfect for aiding and abetting a springtime case of the kitchen lazies.
Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion (serves 2-4, depending on how saucy you like your pasta)
Adapted from Marcella Hazan, via just about every food blogger ever
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow or sweet onion, trimmed, peeled and halved
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
Optional, but very tasty: pinch of crushed red chili and a bay leaf
In a saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. When the butter is mostly melted, add the crushed red chili (if using) and stir for 30 seconds to a minute, just until it gets fragrant. Add onion, cut side down, and let cook for another few minutes, then add tomatoes and bay leaf (if using). Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes or until the sauce comes together.* Remove the onion and bay leaf and discard, then use a potato masher (or a wooden spoon, if you’re really patient) to crush the tomatoes to the consistency you like. You know what to do from here.
*I simmered the sauce with a lid, and the result was fairly watery. Right tasty, but watery. I suspect the solution might be to uncover the sauce while it simmers, so’s it can reduce.
Pea Salad with Parmesan and Mint (serves 2 generously, or 4 demurely)
3/4 lb shelled English peas (fresh, not frozen)
4-5 large mint leaves, roughly chopped or chiffonade
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Shaved parmesan (as much as you like)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add peas, cover, and turn off the heat. Let the peas blanch in the hot water until they’ve just softened and lost their last hint of chalkiness, about 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then dry thoroughly and let cool.
Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add mint, and toss the peas with the dressing. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then lightly toss in shaved parmesan and serve.