This week I’m kneading things up a little bit (wait for it…) and incorporating a simple yet useful technique into the post. Cheryl picked up a package of shelled peas at Trader Joe’s so I made some French peas to go with our Sunday dinner roast. Since I’d made this dish before, I knew there was a recipe for it in my CIA cookbook (the school in my hometown not the spy agency), but I had forgotten about a certain trick used to thicken the sauce; mixing in a butter-flour combo at the end to make a rich, smooth, buttery sauce which envelops the peas.
As I re-read the recipe I noticed the butter technique looked awfully familiar to a something in Ruhlman’s Ratio for thickeners. Sure enough, there is a ratio for this particular trick, 1:1 butter to flour. Its technical name is beurre manié, which I believe translates to ‘kneaded butter’ (haha, see? get it now? kneading things up!). It’s different than a roux (also butter/fat and flour thickener) in that beurre manié isn’t cooked and it is typically used in finishing the sauce, not building it. As a cooking technique I think beurre manié is a very versatile and quick sauce fixer. Pan steaming some vegetables? Drop some in and your veggies have a nice buttery sauce. It can also be used to make a quick sauce for your roasted chicken, or anything else which gives you some pan juices. Just add a little stock to the juices in the pan, whisk in some beurre manié…voila, instant gravy. It may not work with all vegetables, but let’s just say the French, whose peas I was preparing, know a thing or two about technique.
Of course, I improvised a little with the recipe. I opted to switch out the pearl onions for some minced shallot as a time saver. I like pearl onions but they can really be a pain to prep. Ok, not that much of a pain but if you’re making this to go with a weeknight dinner omitting the pearl onions saves a lot of time. I’d say it goes from taking like a half hour to make some peas to 10 mins, if that. I also didn’t have the Boston lettuce called for in the recipe so I used Romaine instead. Worked just fine. And since everything is better with bacon I added some of my guanciale which is hanging in the pantry. Come to think of it, I don’t know if these are French style peas any more, more like ‘Piselli alla Romagna.’ One thing I really wish I had on hand but haven’t seen any around yet: RAMPS. I’d use them for the onions and for the greens. Oh I think they would make this a true spring dish. I highly recommend finding and using fresh peas instead of frozen. This is also a case where I think it is preferable to use a little bit of stock for extra flavor instead of water.
Side roam: See, this is why I like cooking much more than baking. I don’t find cooking as rigid as baking, you can take a recipe or technique and use what you have available. There are a lot of no-no’s in baking and one false move or even a tricky oven can ruin everything. At least with meats and vegetables you can fix mistakes and still get away with it! I just can’t improvise as much with baking. Baking is definitely a skill but it’s not my strongest (except pies). Ok, rant over.
It’s not much of a reach for me to say this dish ROCKS! Peas are one of Cheryl’s favorite vegetable, if not the favorite so I really think I could have just boiled em up, seasoned, and served. However, this is a good example of how a simple technique can elevate a normal side dish. All mostly because of a little butter and flour kneaded together. Great trick to remember as farmer’s markets start to open up and we see more and more fresh vegetables.
French Style Spring Peas (alla Romagna) (serves 4)
- 2 C fresh, shelled peas
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1 medium sized shallot, minced
- 1 Tbs flour
- 2 oz guanciale or pancetta, small cubes
- ½ C chicken stock (or veg)
- 1 C shredded Romaine lettuce
- salt and pepper to taste
Beurre manié: with your fingers combine (knead even) an even ratio of butter and flour. For this recipe 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs of flour will be more than enough.
In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat add the guanciale and shallots. You shouldn’t need any butter as the fat from the guanciale should be enough to cook the shallots but add some if you want. Cook until shallots are soft and beginning to caramelize.
Add the peas, lettuce, and stock. Bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until peas are cooked, about 4-5 minutes. In small pieces add the beurre manié and stir in. Add enough to give you the desired consistency of your sauce. You may only need about ½ Tbs of the beurre manié. It’s butter so easy to save any excess in the fridge. The bacon and stock should season it nicely but add some salt and pepper to taste if you like.