52 Foods Week Fifteen: Mint

Virtually every place I’ve lived has had mint growing, usually by choice. Despite its reputation for taking over, I find the presence of mint to be largely a virtue, because ready access to it can lead to many happy experiments. Even with a decent looking mint supply blooming by the back deck, there are times when you need to purchase some. On those rare occasions, you could do much worse than buying mint from Good Hummus, an organic farm in California’s Capay Valley that enjoys strong ties to the local community.

We picked up two bunches of mint at the Farmers’ Market, because Jen wanted to make a pea shoot pesto recipe she’d found in Sunset. We were unable to locate pea shoots until the last minute, and bought far fewer than the recipe called for, so Jen, our resident pesto expert, set about improvising a recipe built around the mint with pea shoots and Italian parsley rounding out the greenery.

Pea Shoots

I can’t precisely explain how Jen makes pesto. She learned in Italy, sans recipe, and just tosses things in the food processor until it comes out tasting awesome. In this spirit, olive oil, garlic, pea shoots, mint, parsley and parmigiano reggiano were neatly layered before being pulverized by spinning blades.

Ready for Processing

After the first round of processing, we both tasted the pesto and decided it needed more mint. Neither of us were fans of the initial pea shoot dominance, and we were very glad that we had skimped on them. A lot more mint went in. Some more parsley, too. Finally we added some walnuts, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. A final spin and the pesto was ready.

Adding Some Nuts

While Jen was mixing the pesto, I had prepared some sugar snap peas to cook with the pasta (a cheese tortellini, rather than the ravioli the recipe called for, at this point, the recipe was barely involved). We boiled the pasta and peas together for a couple minutes. Sugar snap peas only need about 2 or 3 minutes in boiling water, so if you have dry pasta, wait until it’s almost cooked before adding them.

Tortellini and Sugar Snap Peas

The pasta, peas and pesto all went into a big bowl to be tossed together.

Mixing it Together

This turned out to be a really tasty alternative to basil based pesto. The mint was surprisingly mild and balanced by the other flavors, and Jen’s pesto is always the best I’ve had.

Mint & Pea Shoot Pesto with Tortellini and Sugar Snap Peas

All the photos from this week are here.

52 Foods Week Thirteen: Grapefruit

Is there anything better than 85° weather in March? The sun came out this week and had us lounging outside most waking hours. Davis’ Picnic in the Park, which kicked off two weeks ago, finally had proper weather, and we were so busy enjoying the warmth that I almost forgot to find this week’s food. Fortunately, with minutes to spare, I came across a stack of grapefruits that looked promising.

I really have never understood eating grapefruit. In my mind, citrus should be sweet, and covering fruit in sugar to make it so seems like an indulgence ill-suited for breakfast. All the same, I’ve come to realize that the properties I dislike in grapefruit as a food—bitterness and astringency—make it a complex and rewarding ingredient in cocktails.

When the sun comes out, I long for nothing more than a swimming pool and a refreshing drink. I am happy to lie poolside for hours on end, with an occasional dip to cool off. While Davis has an abundance of pools, few to which we have access have opened yet. I wanted to come up with a cocktail that reminded me of the poolside experience.

Cocktail Time

To capture a sunny day at the pool, I reached for ingredients that each evoke a sensory experience from a day spent swimming and sunning. Grapefruit provides the astringent dryness of chlorine on the skin.

Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice

Meanwhile, mint conjures the bracing feeling of jumping into cool water.

Freshly Picked Mint Leaves

Using slightly sweet, gold rum as a base, I mixed 2 parts rum with 1 part freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Then, in a cocktail shaker, I muddled mint leaves with a bit of sugar and a few dashes peach bitters.

Muddle Mint, Sugar and Peach Bitters

I shook all the ingredients with plenty of ice to get it nice and cold. When it came time to strain the cocktail, I poured it into a salt-rimmed glass; a reminder of the most ubiquitous flavor of a hot day at the pool: a line of sweat on the upper lip.

Strain into Salt-Rimmed Cocktail Glass

The finished cocktail was light and refreshing, with a great balance between salty, bitter and sweet, a pleasing companion to a hot day. Unprompted, my wife said it tasted almost chlorinated, in a good way. Mission accomplished.

The Pool Deck Cocktail:

2 oz. gold rum
1 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
6-8 mint leaves
1/2 tsp. sugar or 2:1 simple syrup
2 dashes peach bitters
Salt for rim of glass
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Dip edge of cocktail glass in grapefruit juice then salt to completely cover rim.

Muddle mint leaves, sugar and peach bitters in cocktail shaker until sugar is dissolved. Add rum and grapefruit juice and shake vigorously over ice. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into salt-rimmed glass, stopping just below salt line. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

The Pool Deck Cocktail

Take a look at all the photos here.