the apex of the season: mushroom and sweet pea skillet

It dawned on me as I chatted away with an old friend that there are exactly six weeks left until Labor Day weekend.

Yes. Six as in seis, as in five plus just one, as in just where in the heck did this Summer run off to?

I am of the staunch opinion that Summer ends on Labor Day.  Though many astrologers or almanac authors or smarty-two-shoes science-y types may try and tell me otherwise, I consider any day that I’d receive horrified looks for rocking white skinny jeans from my oh-so-proper Southern friends to most definitely not fall within the confines of ‘Summertime.’

We’ve been roasted and toasted and nearly burnt to a crisp, yet somehow it just doesn’t seem possible that Summer has already almost lapped us.  There are still popsicles to be eaten, hammocks to be rested in, rivers to be floated on, and said white jeans to be worn! How are we supposed to do all of this in just six measly weeks?!

It’s easy to overlook how nice something really is, when you’ve been spoiled enough to enjoy it in abundance.  Where catching a sight of some dark polished nails, a cozy knit scarf, or some holiday treats on Pinterest sends twangs and pangs of longing down deep into the depths of my gut, I must do my best to shelve those thoughts and remember that we’ve got just six weeks.

But because I can never manage to be quite content when it comes to the state of weather affairs, last night I stood in a kitchen easily thirty degrees warmer than outside and mopped my brow with my chef whites as I tended to a lamb sausage sizzling and sputtering on the grill.  I winged and whined that I just could not wait for Fall; I couldn’t wait to zip up my boots and toss on a cardigan, and walk outside to feel a crisp apple-cider scented breeze instead of being met by – god forbid – more sunshine, more cloudless skies, and more tank top and flip flop nights.

After realizing just how fast six weeks goes – why, just six weeks ago, I was perched on our deck happily chowing down on our first homemade veggie burgers of the season – I realize I better bite my tongue.  I am definitely not ready for my most favorite.season.ever to draw to a close.  The reality is in that in just a month and a half we will be barraged with back to school commercials, the Summer Olympics will be but a memory, and all eyes and ears will be trained on this year’s big election. (Groan.)  We’ll be bidding our farewells to stone fruits and fat berries, and those precious hours of extra daylight I’ve started to take for granted will begin to close up on us on both ends.

Six weeks is still plenty of time to enjoy simple Summer dinners, suppers like this one that allow for plenty of time on the side to skip through a running sprinkler, or chase down the ice cream truck.  (Is there anything better than hearing the Ice Cream Man’s music rain over the neighborhood on a hot July night?!)  This summery skillet is a combination of buttery seared mushrooms and just barely cooked sweet peas, all swirled together with a generous spoonful of bright pesto.  Fresh mozzarella dotted over the top becomes molten and unctuous under the high heat of a broiler, and melts all in down and around the vegetables, finding wonderful little hiding spots to pool up and settle.

A good loaf of sourdough or crusty rustic bread is the perfect vehicle for delivering this straight to your mouth, and it’s best enjoyed directly from the skillet, while still piping hot and drippy with warm cheese.  It’s not fancy – that’s for certain – but so very little of what makes Summer so nice is.  The sweet peas stay crunchy and fresh, and the juxtaposition with the bold mushrooms is something akin to a cold glass of lemonade on a humid and hazy evening.

Oh no.  I’m not ready.  We’re at the apex of the season and I’m well aware that from here, well, the only way to go is down.  But I’m promising myself to hang on to it for as long as I can, and to spend those extra minutes of sunshine smiling with a glass of wine in hand, digging in to suppers like this that only really pass as suppers at all at this very juncture in the span of our year.

Mushroom and Sweet Pea Skillet
Serves 2 as a meal (with bread) and  4 amply as a side dish (you’ll most likely have leftovers)

I used a homemade garlic scape pesto in this skillet – you can find the recipe here. Any good quality pesto will do, so long as it’s fresh and bright tasting.

If you can, find a fresh mozzarella that is packed in liquid. It has a much better texture and taste than the type that is encased in plastic, is much fresher, and is less salty and processed tasting.

The peas here are barely cooked, instead getting quickly stirred in with the mushrooms and given a bit of a go under the broiler. The contrast in taste and texture of the golden mushrooms and oozy cheese with the still slightly crisp and sweet peas is really nice.

To cut basil into a chiffonade, stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them like a cigar. Cut the cigar into narrow pieces, leaving you with skinny strands of basil leaf.

1 pound cremini or white button mushrooms, cut into quarters
1 pound sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and cut in half
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp pesto, either homemade or a good store bought brand
4-6 oz fresh mozzarella (one medium sized fresh mozzarella ball)
small handful basil, cut into a chiffonade (see note above)
olive oil
kosher salt and pepper

to serve: crusty bread

tools: a large heavy skillet (I used cast iron)

Preheat your oven to high broil.

In a large heavy skillet melt the butter and a good drizzle of olive oil over high heat. When the butter is melted and the oil is hot, add the mushrooms in all at once, spread them evenly on the bottom of the pan, and then leave them alone. Let them cook, undisturbed, for 2-3 minutes, until they have become golden and crusty on the side that is touching the pan. Tossle and stir the mushrooms, add a good pinch of kosher salt, and then let them cook again 2-3 minutes undisturbed. We want to get them nice and golden brown. Continue to cook and stir and let them sit until the mushrooms are golden brown on all sides and tender all the way through, 8-10 minutes.

When the mushrooms are tender and essentially cooked, stir in the halved sugar snap peas and the pesto, tossing until all of the peas and mushrooms are covered totally with the pesto. Taste a bit, and adjust the skillet for salt and pepper to your liking. Take the skillet off the heat, and pinch off pieces of the fresh mozzarella, scattering them over the top of the skillet. Place the skillet under the preheated broiler, and cook, keeping a careful eye to ensure that the cheese doesn’t burn, for 1-2 minutes, or until the mozzarella is melted and bubbly and golden brown on the top. Scatter the basil chiffonade over the top of the skillet.

Serve the skillet immediately while the cheese is still hot, bubbly, and oozy; I like to place it in the center of the table on a trivet and let everyone serve themselves.

One response to “the apex of the season: mushroom and sweet pea skillet

  1. you’re great with words and food too..this looks so delish that I want to lick the screen:)

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