Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spring Peas

Every year since I was tiny the first signs of spring was the harvesting and freezing of peas and my favorite thing was to eat those sweet little peas raw from the shell.
For us here in the deep South our first peas can be picked as early as the first week of May and here at the farm our peas are ready. As with all foods when they are in abundant supply it's time to think of fun new ways to eat them. One of my favorite peas recipes came from Gourmet several years ago Crostini with Roasted Garlic Pea Puree kind of like a fresh peas hummus this makes a great spring appetizer.

1 head garlic, unpeeled
¼ C olive oil
1 baguette, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 ½ C fresh peas OR a 10-ounce package frozen peas, cooked and drained
a large piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3Tb water

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut 1/2-inch off top of garlic head and put head on sheet of foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over garlic and wrap tightly in foil. Roast garlic in middle of oven until very soft, 30 to 40 minutes, and cool.
While garlic is cooling, arrange baguette slices in one layer on a large baking sheet and brush lightly on each side with additional oil. Bake slices in middle of oven until crisp and pale golden, 5 to 10 minutes, and transfer to rack.
Squeeze roasted garlic from head into a food processor add peas, cheese lemon juice and 1Tb olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Blend pea mixture until smooth adjusting consistency with water 1 TB at a time.
Spread toasts with about 1 heaping tablespoon pea purée on each toast and top with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Drizzle with remaining oil.
yield: Makes about 24 crostini

When buying peas choose fresh peas with crisp, smooth, glossy, bright green pods. Avoid any that are wilted, dried, puffy or blemished. For the sweetest flavor, try to purchase them from a farmers market. Plan on using fresh peas as soon as possible after purchase as their natural sugars will convert to starch soon after picking. Peas will stay fresh in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for 3-4 days but don't expect them to keep their characteristic sweetness for more than a day.

Shell the peas just before cooking to prevent them from drying out. Working over a large bowl, squeeze the pod and press your thumb against the seam to split it open. Continuing the same movement, sweep your thumb down along the inside of the pod to pop out the peas.
To preserve the sweetness of your fresh peas blanch them in boiling water until they turn bright green about 1minute, remove from the hot water and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. At this point they are ready to use in your favorite recipe or put into zip lock bags to freeze for a bit of spring next winter.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Freezing Corn 101

Every year I look forward to my first ear of fresh sweet corn. It's wonderful! Too bad the season for corn is only a few short weeks a year. Freezing freshly harvested corn allows you to preserve it at it's peak of flavor.
In our area farmers are already beginning to harvest the first of this years corn. We came across some very nice sweet corn at a great price and decided to freeze some for the rest of the year. We bought 3 cases that had between 55-75 ears per case. Freezing corn is quite simple, you just need to follow a few basic steps. I took pictures of the process. Here is corn freezing 101:

The first step is to get very fresh sweet corn. If your not picking the corn yourself, try to get corn that was picked within a day or two of when you plan to freeze it. The sugars in the corn begin to turn to starch as soon as it's picked. So the sooner you freeze the corn after its been picked, the more sweetness it will retain. The ears should not be too large. Very large ears are also typically less sweet.
The next step is to husk the corn. This is my least favorite part of the process. Luckily for us my Dad is a husking machine!

After the corn is husked it needs to be cleaned to remove as much of the silk as possible. A very soft vegetable brush works best for this step.

The next step is to blanch the corn. Bring a large stock pot filled about half full with water to a boil. When it boils add as many ears as you can fit making sure they all stay submerged in the water. Adding the corn will stop the boiling process. Place a lid on the pot. Allow the corn to come back to a rapid boil. This may take 10 minutes or more. Keep an eye on the pot because once it reaches a boil the corn is blanched. Remove the corn immediately from the hot water using tongs.Since you will more than likely need to blanch your corn in multiple batches, you will want to save the hot water in your stock pot. This not only conserves water but also greatly shorten the amount of time it takes to bring the water to a boil. You may need to add more water to your pot as you go.

While your waiting for your corn to come to a boil you need to prepare for the next step which is cooling the corn. Fill your sink with cold water. If you have a two compartment sink, fill one side with cold water and the other side with ice water. If you don't have a two compartment sink you can fill a large bowl or tub with the ice water.

Place the corn into the sink filled with cold water. After the corn is blanched it is critical that it is placed immediately into cold water. This will stop the cooking process. You will lose your fresh corn flavor if you allow the corn to cook to much. Next transfer the corn to the ice water and allow it to cool completely.
The next step is cutting the corn from the cob. This is the only step that requires a little skill. After doing a couple of ears, you'll get a feel for how to get the corn without cutting into the cob. A small sharp knife is the important key for this step. A pairing or vegetable knife works best. After you cut off all corn from the cob, turn your knife so that the blade face outward and scrape down the cob. This will remove all the sweet juice and bits of corn that remain on the cob. This step is a bit messy but you'll be getting every bit of your sweet delicious corn off the cob. You will need a large bowl to cut into. I find it works best if I place the bowl in my lap while I cut off the corn. Do whatever feels comfortable to you.

After you finish cutting off the corn from the cobs, scoop the corn into zip lock freezer bags. I used quart sized bags which will hold enough for 4-5 servings. For smaller servings use a pint sized bag. Lay the bag on it's side and flatten out the corn. Press out as much air as possible before closing the bag. Flattening the bag not only helps you to remove the air but it also makes it much easier to stack the corn into your freezer.

Place bags into the freezer and enjoy your sweet corn all year long!

Even the dog got in on the action! She stole three cobs from the tub. All the rest went to some very happy cows!