There’s a very hip restaurant in my neighborhood called Joseph Leonard; you go there, and everyone else is either more attractive or more wealthy than you. There’s a very cool bathroom with a medicine cabinet over the sink that has Q-tips, Altoids and tampons (I bet women wish more restaurant bathrooms had tampons; or maybe they do and that’s just a secret between women and restaurants?) and on every table a little jar of cornichons. It’s that little jar of cornichons (not the tampons) that I’d like to talk about today. It led to my own table decorating revelation, one involving sugar snap peas, garlic and lots of white wine vinegar.
We ate a wonderful dish at Franny’s a few weeks ago of sugar snap peas (my favorite springtime vegetable) served on a cloud of whipped ricotta resting in a sea of olive oil. It was such a beautiful dish–the bright greenness of the snap peas, the cooling creaminess of the ricotta–that not only did I serve it as an appetizer at the dinner I cooked for Lizzie and Tyla, but I also served it again two days later when I cooked a dinner for Diana’s birthday. And both times it was a big hit.
It’s difficult to improve upon a sugar snap pea. It’s nature’s candy: green, crunchy, juicy. It’s interactive: you peel away the thread and then throw it in your mouth. This spring, I became a sugar snap pea junkie–buying moundfuls at the farmer’s market and snacking on them all afternoon. The few times I cooked them, I sauteed them in olive oil or butter, sprinkled them with salt, a few grindings of pepper and called it a day. Sugar snap peas, like Lauren Ambrose, say, don’t need much enhancement. They’re beautiful as they are.
What’s a genius chef to do, then, to improve on something that needs little improvement? Enter David Chang. At Momofuku (the original) he’s serving a sugar snap pea appetizer that works beautifully. The peas are sauteed in miso butter (note the tan-colored pool at the bottom of the plate); topped with fresh grated horseradish and then thin slivers of radish. All of these components serve to enhance the sugar snap peas in ways, like good drama, that are both surprising and inevitable. In fact, I’d argue that this simple dish, a dish that doesn’t call too much attention to itself, showcases Chang’s talent in ways that his more elaborate dishes might not. It’s simple, it’s smart, and it’s seasonal. And it makes sugar snap peas taste better than they normally do which, at least according to this sugar snap pea enthusiast, is a feat worth celebrating.
A mountain of sugar snap peas greeted visitors to the Union Square Farmer’s Market on Friday. I was there because on Friday night I was hosting a screening of “Showgirls,” a movie that Craig delights in as “sublimely disastrous.” Browsing around the market, I was trying to piece together a meal concept and, aware that it was spring, I purchased two bunches of asparagus and then, at the pile of sugar snap peas, I went a little crazy and bought two pounds of them! And would you believe, all two pounds were gone and consumed by Friday night.