The year I was born, Jennifer was the most common name for girls. Suffice it to say, I grew up with no less than 3 or 4 Jennifers in my class at any given time. With that in mind, we all had to adopt our own variation of the root name, and soon I was known as “Jenny.” But never had I regretted that decision more than the Summer of 1994, when the American classic, “Forrest Gump,” was released in theaters. I thought I’d never hear the end of the phrase, “Jenny and me were like peas and carrots.” My SoCal friends would do their darndest to take on a Southern drawl, but their Golden State roots always betrayed their accents. I never fully understood the phrase to be one of endearment, either, because the only peas and carrots I knew where the mushy variety served from a can in the school lunch line. I don’t think I know anybody who ever liked those.
If I could go back in time and rewrite the script for the movie, I’d change the line to peas and pasta. Peas and pasta and mint, for that matter. To me, few things go better with peas than pasta and mint, and my latest recipe features this exact mix. To recreate my recipe, you could easily use any old pasta shape of your liking, but I specifically chose campanelle pasta for its signature bell shape, which acts as a sort of basket for the little peas. Each pasta bell is coated in luxuriously creamy and slightly sweet mascarpone cheese, which melts into a light sauce, perfumed by caramelized onions and woodsy crimini mushrooms. With just a sprinkle of fresh mint, this dish is elevated from ordinary to irresistible. Since Shavuot is quickly approaching, keep this recipe in your arsenal when you’re looking for something cheese-y.
If ever a sequel to Forrest Gump is in the works, we’ll have to make sure the producers know about the newest best pairing in town. “Jenny and me was like peas, pasta and mint.” If you ask me, I’d say it has a nice ring to it.
Bell-shaped pasta acts as the perfect basket for these peas, coated in a warm mascarpone sauce.
16 oz Campanelle pasta
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 pint crimini mushrooms, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
8oz mascarpone cheese
3 TBS fresh mint, chopped
fresh ground pepper
Cook pasta according to packaging, until al dente.
Meanwhile, add olive oil in a separate saute pan, and heat over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and stir gently. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until mushrooms have cooked through. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Drain the cooked pasta, reserving 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.
Gently fold in the thawed peas to the onion mix. Stir in the hot pasta, and mix in the mascarpone cheese. Lower heat, and let cheese melt. If needed, stir in 1 TBS of the reserved pasta water, to thicken the sauce.
Top with fresh mint.
Can be served hot or at room temperature.
*If you are using fresh peas, be sure to steam them before adding to this recipe.
Shavuot is just around the corner, and I see my friends frantically scouring the internet, searching for the perfect dairy-based dish to commemorate the arrival of our ancestors to the land of “Milk and Honey,” and the point in history when the Jewish people were said to have received the torah. It’s funny that we have a holiday whose main highlight is all things dairy, considering how many Jewish friends I have who suffer from lactose-intolerance. Sounds like a cruel joke to me, but I digress.
At my family get-togethers, which commonly revolve around holidays and food, there is usually a healthy dose of competition involved. I’m not talking about the Marc Summers-hosted “Double Dare” variety, with obstacle courses and green slime, although we’ve definitely tried those in the past. These days our competitions revolve around culinary feats and there is one title that has eluded me since I joined the ranks of family cooks: La Reyna del Flan, or The Flan Queen.
Several of the matriarchs in the family have held this title in the past. My mom’s cousin, Virginia, blazed the trail with her traditional, Spanish-style flan, whose custard is so silky smooth and deeply rich, that for years, no one dared to compete. Then, Vilma, Virginia’s sister came up like a dark horse with a flan de coco (or candied coconut flan), whose strands of sweet coconut took the spotlight and threatened all we knew and loved about the traditional egg dessert. Not to be outdone, my very own mother entered the race with a super-sized pumpkin flan big enough to feed an army, or one flan-enthusiast family. But for a long time, the clear shoo-in was always my Tia Pipa, whose bread pudding flan simply could not be touched…until now.
Ladies and gentlemen, this Shavuot, I’m bringing out the big guns, as I believe I have rightfully earned my place in my family’s Cuban flan hall of fame with my latest entry. Sure, I borrowed, begged, and stole the best elements of these matriarch’s versions, but in doing so, I believe I created a flan worthy of the regal title.
When it comes to La Reyna del Flan, it looks like I take the cake…er, flan.
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (*Note: Make sure it is kosher for Passover)
a pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
2 tbs water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and add your empty pan in the oven to warm.
Mix first six ingredients (from evaporated milk to salt) in a blender, and set aside.
In a saucepan, cook the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar becomes a deep amber color (about 15 minutes).
Working quickly, remove the empty pan from the oven, and pour in the now melted sugar. Swirl the pan around, so the sugar covers the entire bottom of the pan. Pour in the milk and egg mixture over the caramelized sugar.
Insert the now full pan into a larger pan, and fill the larger pan about half-way up with water (a water bath).
Return the flan pan and water bath to the oven, and bake for about 70 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Remove the flan pan from the water bath, and set on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to serve the flan, run a knife along the edge of the pan, place a rimmed serving platter over the pan, and invert it. The flan should fall easily, and the caramel sauce will coat the top and run along the sides.