Pea Soup Vs. Pea Soup
Thursday, May 7, 1998
It''s no small curse, at the tail end of this tenacious El Ni¤o winter, to venture inland a few miles and be reminded that somewhere it''s really spring. That, in itself, is a welcome tonic; it''s returning to PG that makes the warm embrace of the new season and all its charms seem like some deceptive hallucination. Returning to Butterfly Town, spring lovers are forced to swap the sight of tender green pea pods hanging from the vine--the first harbingers of edible spring--for the pea soup etoufe which enshrouds the coastline.
In An Alphabet For Gourmets, "P is for Peas," MFK Fisher calls the first peas of spring "delicate messengers to our palates from the kind earth-mother." She waxes at her poetic best in this tale of an impromptu garden picnic where the peas she had grown were cooked over a fire steps away from where they had just been picked.
Into a big kettle with a scant half-inch of spring water in the bottom were tossed six quarts of peas, with a heavy lid slapped over them "as if the devil might get out." After steam peeked out and a couple of big shakes, a big knob of fresh butter was thrown in, and as soon as it melted, the peas were done. They "came from their hot pot onto our thick china plates in a cloud, a kind of miasma, of everything that anyone could ever want from them, even in a dream."
That''s really all the expertise that''s required to enjoy these first gifts of the season. At Grasing''s in Carmel, Chef Kurt puts a fresh pea soup on special, done much the same way, only thinned a bit with stock and pureed, when they''re just tender, and cooked indoors, of course.
Grasing''s also taking advantage of an abundance of asparagus that does incredibly well on the grill--he serves it in salads and as an appetizer with a vinegary basil sauce. And then there''s this other...stuff.
It kinda looks like asparagus, but it''s not. MFK Fisher would be raving about broccolini, the latest vegetable marketing venture to hit the block. Developed here in Monterey County, it''s a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale, and at Casanova, Chef Didier Dutretre admires it for its delicate flavor. "The whole stalk is usable," he explains, "resembling tender spears of asparagus, and the flavor is mild, too."
At Tarpy''s Road House, Chef Michael Kimmel also enjoys experimenting with broccolini, tossing it into pasta or just steaming it lightly. Spring fever is busting out all over at Tarpy''s--Kimmel''s vegetable and edible flower gardens now cover about a half-acre of the property, and the beds look like they''re fomenting with promise. Fresh peas are on their way and even heirloom tomatoes and eggplants aren''t too far off to dream about in this sun-kissed part of the county.
Ten minutes away, another fog bomb has gone off in Pacific Grove, where we must depend on the solace of comfort food year round. I take the advice of the Love sisters and put on a pot of mustard greens, a la Love''s Catering.
Smell the flowers, feel the sun and taste a glass of Georis Merlot, at Georis'' rustically beautiful new tasting room just opened in Carmel Valley Village. Wednesdays through Sundays, 12-4pm, 4 Pilot Rd. 659-1050.