Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

When Laziness Pays Off: Pesto Sugar Snaps


DISCLAIMER: The following recipe is not seasonal. The stuff did not come from a garden I tended. Nor is it particularly ingenious. But it is simple, fast, and good. Which on certain days is all I can muster. And quite frankly, all I want.


Spare me the outrage. The shock. The indignation. I'm eating sugar snap peas. In November. I totally bought them. I totally cooked them. And I absolutely loved it. 

Call it a desperate grasp for sunnier times (or maybe even fast forwarding to a spring that's still more than a season away), but I couldn't help myself. I know there is a box full of gorgeously warted winter squash of every size, shape, and color decorating my kitchen, waiting to be prepared in some way. And in good time. I'll get to it. But by Jove, it was sunny today. If it weren't for the barren branches and fallen leaves, I could've sworn it was a spring sun shining through my window. 

Don't get me wrong. I love autumn. I love the sweaters. I love the last bit of angled sun. I love the cider, the food, the whole bit. But I'm a champion worrier, thanks to Korean genetics and a solid upbringing in the tradition. And as I throw in cinnamon sticks in a pot of boozy cider and tactically plan out the conquering of winter squash, I can't help but to think of the snow. The darkness. The bloody winter. 

So I caved. In the produce aisle, in a plastic sealed bag that shone with all the petroleum it was made from. Shiny, packaged, sin, so green and inviting. I took it home, trimmed the stemmy ends and threw it briefly into boiling salted water. Then I drained them and threw them into a shockingly cold bowl of ice water -- like little Russian sauna enthusiasts dipping into an icy pool after a sweaty session. They stayed green and crisp.

I ate a few straight away, still crunchy from the brief and extreme cooking. Sweet. Green. Unlike the windy, dry, brown brittleness of the world outside. Then I looked into the freezer, beyond the meager stash of my roasted butternut squash in ziploc packets, frozen fruit, and anonymous cuts of meat. And there it was, almost forgotten in a corner - the last jar of pesto. I didn't can any this year and unless some magnanimous friend bestows some garlicky green goodness on me, this streaked jar is my last for the season. 

I thawed it as much as impatience would allow and scraped the whole lot on top of the green snap peas. A sprinkle of coarse sea salt, the zest of lemon that was dangerously close to dying unused on the counter top of a heated apartment kitchen, and some more pecorino cheese for good measure. And there I had a different season in a bowl. The central heating kicked in, whistling some hot air into my kitchen.

Were the peas as sweet and succulent as it could have been? Probably not. But on a cold evening, dining alone, it sufficed as a meal in of itself, straight from the bowl in which it was created without the aid of a fork. I tossed away seasonal logic. So what's a bit of bad manners?



For every pound of sugar snaps (blanched for a few seconds in hot, salted, boiling water and then thrown into a bowl of ice water, then drained), add 1/2 cup (or more if you REALLY like pesto and are lucky to have more left) of pesto. It can be from your garden or from a store. Just make sure it is relatively fresh (or in my case, fresh from the freezer. Before that it was most certainly fresh and beautiful from a friend's garden), from a refrigerated case, not from a shelf stable jar.

Salt is all you need at this point. But if you're in particular denial of the cold season, add the zest of one lemon, maybe a squeeze of its juice, and some extra grated pecorino or parmesan cheese.

This works as a side dish for any meat. Or add some hot pasta to it for a carbo-loaded, unseasonal, gluttonous grand slam. Or in cases of complete desperation and anxiety, eat them straight with your fingers, licking up the pool of pesto that will inevitably gather at the bottom of the bowl.