Two…no, three summers ago…maybe four…oh forget it. Once upon a time, we were out in Montauk with our friends Chris and Amy. Amy is a personal trainer, triathlete, and a completely insane cook. Wherever she is, there will be something good to eat.
Before this particular long weekend, I was only vaguely aware of the name “Ina Garten” (I refer to this era as my ignorant youth). From her kitchen bookshelf, Amy pulled out Barefoot Contessa: At Home, began flipping through pages and said, “There’s this little salad I really want to try…”
Little salad. Yeah right. This turned out to be a tremendous salad. It is baby spinach tossed with pesto, peas and pine nuts. Amy whipped it up our first night in Montauk and served it with…um…I think it was flank steak but I honestly don’t remember, I was so consumed with the salad. There wasn’t a shred left at the end of the meal and I picked every last pine nut out of the bowl.
The next day, Jeeps and I were hanging around the kitchen while Amy mused about what to make for dinner that night. “I have shrimp,” she said, poking around in the fridge. “There’s this scampi recipe I want to try and I could serve it over pasta, I think I have linguini…”
Jeeps and I exchanged one single, telepathic glance.
“Can we make the spinach salad again?” I asked. “And just serve the shrimp on that?”
Amy popped her head out of a cupboard with raised eyebrows. “Sure!” she laughed. She is an exemplary hostess.
So we ate the salad again with shrimp. That night I ordered my own copy of Barefoot Contessa: At Home so I would never again be without this recipe. I went back home a changed woman. I began bringing that salad with me to parties. Everywhere I took it, it was a hit. I give it now to you. Go forth and be a hit.
Barefoot Contessa Pesto Pea Salad
(This is the exact recipe measurements from the book; eventually it becomes something you don’t measure)
- 2 cups frozen peas, thawed (about 1/2 bag)
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (toast them in a dry saute pan over medium heat, tossing often, until browned. Babysit them as they will burn easily. And by the way, 2 tablespoons turned into more like 1/3 cup for me because I do love me some pignolis)
- 2 1/2 cups baby spinach (I know, I’ve never measured cups of salad leaves either)
- 4 tablespoons pesto (according to your methods, you can hear about mine here)
To assemble the salad, put the spinach in your salad bowl, sprinkle 3/4 of the peas and 1/2 of the pine nuts over the spinach. Add the pesto and toss. This is more blithe than it sounds. In the beginning the pesto will just be glop and you will fret that it will never distribute evenly over the leaves. It will. Keep scraping it off the salad spoons and keep tossing. It eventually incorporates and it will be beautiful. Once it’s beautiful, sprinkle the rest of the peas and pine nuts attractively over the top, and then give a nice sprinkle of parmesan. Step back and admire. It’s beautiful. You are beautiful.
This salad goes with everything and it can even stand alone. It’s terrific with steak, chicken, shrimp and fish. In summer, it goes great with a big platter of corn on the cob, and another plate of sliced tomatoes.
One note: if you bring this salad to a party, don’t bring it composed. Bring the ingredients and your salad bowl and assemble it just before the meal is served. Reason being the salad leaves absorb the pesto and very quickly go limp. Not beautiful.