Thursday, May 28, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Pea Vine

by Andrea Yoder

Pea vine is actually just an immature pea plant that we harvest before it starts to make blossoms. As an immature plant its greens are edible and have a delicious, mild sweet pea flavor.  Pea vine can be eaten raw as a salad ingredient or can be lightly sautéed, wilted into soups or stir-fried. While the tendrils and leaves are tender, the main stem can sometimes get tough depending on how big the plant is at harvest.  Unfortunately, Richard and I disagree every year as to when the pea vine should be harvested.  I argue that we should harvest it when the stems are short & tender.  Richard argues that we should let it get a little bit bigger and if some of the lower stems start to get a little bit tough and woody, just sort them out.  Well, I agree that I prefer a generous bunch of pea vine, but I really don’t enjoy sorting out the tough stems.
This year I did some more careful evaluation and I actually have to admit that I’ve finally found a reason to agree with Richard that we should let the pea vine get a bit more mature.  The flavor is actually better when the plant is a bit more mature!  Flavor almost always wins out in my book, so now I just have to figure out how to work with the plant so the stems don’t drive me crazy!  My solution has been to find ways to incorporate pea vine into dishes that can be blended.  This way you can add the entire plant and chop it up finely to extract all the delicious flavor!  You can leave the blended pea vine in whatever dish you are preparing if you don’t mind a little fiber and the fact that it will slightly thicken your dish.  If you prefer something smooth, you could also strain it out.  Using this method, you can make very tasty soups, sauces, or pea vine pesto.
So this year, Richard and I have finally come to an agreement as to when we will harvest the pea vine.  If you haven’t been a fan of pea vine previously, I’d encourage you to give it a try with the blender by your side to assist.  It’s worth the little bit of effort to be able to enjoy the delicious pea flavor packed in this green!

Fettuccine with Pea Vine Cream Sauce
by Andrea Yoder
Serves 4-6
12 ounces fettuccine noodles
1 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 pieces green garlic, green top & bulb minced (about ⅓ cup)
3-4 green onions, green top & bulb minced (about ⅔ cup)
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups half & half
4-6 cups (1 bunch) pea vine, roughly chopped
¼ pound asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces or smaller
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Prepare a pot of salted boiling water and cook the fettuccine according to the package instructions.  Drain the fettuccine into a colander, reserving about 1-2 cups of the cooking liquid.  Set aside the cooking liquid and fettuccine until you are ready to add it to the sauce.
  2. Heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add green garlic & onion and sauté for about 1 minute.  Add the white wine and simmer until nearly all the wine is gone.   Add the half & half and reduce the total volume by half by simmering over medium-low heat.  Do not let the mixture boil or it will separate and curdle. If this does happen, don’t despair.  You can usually whisk the lumps out, or you’ll take care of them when you blend the sauce. Season the cream mixture with salt and black pepper.
  3. While the cream mixture is reducing, prepare the pea vine.  Sort out any damaged leaves and trim off the bottom ½-1 inch of the stem.  Rough chop the pea vine into about 1-inch pieces.  Once the cream mixture has reduced by half, add the pea vine, cover and allow the pea vine to wilt into the cream, which will only take a few minutes.  
  4. Once the pea vine is wilted, remove the sauce from the heat.  Carefully transfer the sauce to a blender and puree the mixture until the pea vine is completely chopped up.  Carefully pour the cream mixture back into the pan and return it to the stove top over medium-low heat.
  5. Add the asparagus and lemon zest and simmer just until the asparagus is starting to get tender but is not completely cooked.  Add the fettuccine to the pan and stir to combine.  You want the sauce to lightly coat the pasta.  If the sauce is a little too thin, continue to cook the pasta in the sauce for a few more minutes.  If the sauce is too thick, thin it out by adding a little bit of the pasta liquid until the sauce is the desired consistency.  Taste the pasta and sauce and add salt and pepper to your liking.  
  6. Serve hot.  While it’s delicious just as it is, you could also serve it with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan on top or a sprinkle of crumbled cooked bacon.  This dish is also delicious when served with grilled shrimp or chicken on top or with a piece of sautéed fish.  

*Note:  If you want a completely smooth sauce, you can strain the sauce before returning it to the pan.  However, if you have a good blender, you should be able to blend the pea vine into very small pieces that will actually thicken the sauce.  I do not enjoy cleaning the strainer and prefer to keep the fiber in the food, thus I usually do not strain the sauce.

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