Far more than in the past, I find myself considering my friends’ eating habits when we entertain. Are you gluten-free? Do you eat sugar? Are you vegetarian? are questions I ask routinely. And the most resounding “ yes” I hear is to the last of these. Always deferential, my vegetable-loving pals respond that they don’t expect a special meal, that they’ll be fine enjoying salad and side dishes at dinner. But what fun is that for them! It’s like being invited to the theatre, and saying I’ll be okay seeing only the 2nd and 3rd acts. So, I am always searching for delicious vegetarian main courses to share with my expanding circle of discriminating guests.
Rice with peas, fresh mint, and Pecorino will not disappoint. Here is a beautiful spring entrée prepared with easy- to-find ingredients that is uncomplicated to assemble. You start by making a quick “pea pesto” pureeing peas (fresh or frozen) with pine nuts, mint, and Pecorino.The intensely flavored mixture is then tossed with warm cooked rice. More peas are stirred in and then the verdant rice is mounded in shallow bowls, and garnished with mint, pine nuts, and Pecorino.
I’ve served this dish several times now, always to enthusiastic reviews. In fact, my husband, who thinks steak, ribs, and lamb chops should be at the top of the food pyramid, loves this main course and can’t refrain from taking seconds!
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Rice with Peas, Fresh Mint, and Pecorino
3 cups fresh or frozen peas, defrosted
6 tbsp pine nuts, toasted (See note.)
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup basmati rice or enough to yield 4 cups cooked
Coarsely ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for garnish
1. Bring a large saucepan 2/3 full of water to a boil. Add peas, and cook until tender, 3 minutes for frozen peas, a minute or two longer for fresh. Remove and drain in a colander.
2. Pulse 1 cup of the peas, 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mint, lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and garlic in a food processor until mixture is a coarse purée (like a pesto). Stop the machine and scrap down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Add 3 tablespoons of the Pecorino, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and stock and pulse to blend. (The pea puree can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover and leave at room temperature.)
3. Cook 1 cup rice (or enough to yield 4 cups cooked) according to package directions. Transfer the rice to a large microwave-proof bowl and toss with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the pea puree and using two forks toss well with the rice. Stir in the remaining 2 cups peas, and season with salt to taste. The rice and pea mixture will be warm but not hot. If you want to serve the rice warmer, heat it in the microwave a few seconds or more. Watch carefully.
4. Mound rice in shallow bowls. Garnish each serving with sprinkles of the remaining Pecorino, mint, and pine nuts. Season with several grinds of black pepper and add a lemon wedge for squeezing. Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course.
Note: To toast pine nuts, place them in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir until nuts are lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes or less. Watch carefully as they can burn quickly. Remove and cool.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2016