Memorial Day Cooking: Pea and Tomato Salad

Memorial Day weekend is now upon us here in the U.S., which is traditionally viewed as the unofficial start of summer, since technically summer is still several weeks away.  Many of my readers will be no doubt attending picnics and barbecues this weekend to remember our military and to kick off the warm weather season. [NOTE: I am still trying to find a Memorial Day to attend with this fellow and his new bride, who are in town and have never been to an American-style cookout.]

In addition, if you are not hosting an event yourself, many of you are going to be asked to bring something to whatever party you are attending. This often takes the form of a salad or side dish to accompany the grilled meats on offer.  Usually leads to the same old boring mayonnaise with potatoes, or alternatively some tossed, green, leafy things with bits of this and that thrown in.

A new alternative for you to consider making is a salad or side dish that I invented for a dinner party held here at the manse this past weekend for one of my friar friends from the Dominican Priory and several of my neighbors. Making use of spring peas and hydroponic tomatoes, but perfectly good for anytime in the summer, it requires a bit more work than simply tossing everything in a salad spinner and pulling a cord. However it is inexpensive, can be made and stored in advance, and the results are well worth the comparatively marginal effort.

This pea and tomato salad is loosely based on one of the foundational elements of Spanish cooking, the “sofrito”.  However instead of using this flavor reduction as a base in which to cook, say, a paella or fish dish, we will be using it to make good use of seasonal products. It is also one of those dishes where allowing it to sit overnight in the refrigerator dramatically enhances the flavor.

Pea & Tomato Salad
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 an onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 pound whole tomatoes, quartered
2 cups new peas
1/4 pound of diced fatty parma ham, pancetta, or bacon
olive oil
salt and pepper
rosemary (optional)

1. Coat the bottom of a large, non-stick skillet with olive oil, and heat on medium heat until it just begins to smoke. Add the minced garlic and sautee for about a minute or two, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
2. Add the diced onion and sautee for a couple of minutes until the onion becomes translucent.
3. Add the ham or bacon, and sautee for another 5 minutes, give or take, being careful to not allow the meat to burn. (You want to allow some of the fat to melt into the oil.)
4. Make a well in the center of the pan, and add two tablespoons of tomato paste. Allow the paste to warm and loosen for a minute or two, but not blacken, then stir to combine with the garlic, onion, and ham. Continue cooking for another couple of minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
5. Add the pound of quartered tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and allow them to cook for several minutes until they just start to fall apart.
6. Once the tomatoes start to disintegrate, take the pan OFF the heat and add the new peas and rosemary (if desired). Stir gently to combine, so that there are still plenty of chunks of tomato.
7. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then place in a bowl and chill (preferably overnight).

I can attest to the results, since my guests took second and third helpings of this dish, and I had practically nothing left over. Enjoy!

Detail of “Still Life of Artichokes and Peas” by Luis Meléndez (c. 1771-1774)
Private Collection, Madrid


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