Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A traditional favorite

To mark the end of school each year, Mama would take us out for banana splits at the drug store ice cream fountain just around the corner from school. My sister, Susan, and I sat on the vinyl-covered round stools that spun around and dangled our bare legs while I ate my banana split topped with walnuts in a gooey syrup, and she ate plain chocolate ice cream.

Mama also made garden pea and Irish potato pastry to mark the end of school and the beginning of summer. She’d make mine with peas and Susan’s with just the potatoes (always the picky one that girl.)

She’d usually make the pastry for us at lunch, and Susan and I would enjoy it after a morning filled with "Captain Kangaroo” and playing with our Dawn dolls.

The recipe grew to be a favorite of mine, and I learned to associate it with early summer and the feeling of freedom and anticipation that comes with no school for a few months. Good memories!

I imagine the tradition started easily enough because the beginning of summer coincides with the few brief weeks when sweet garden peas are coming off the vines and backyard gardeners are first harvesting tiny new potatoes that pop when you bite into them.

My earlier memories of eating garden pea and potato pastry are from my grandmother Owens’ house. Susan remembers having it there, too. So Mama must have learned to make it from her mama.

Over the years, Susan and I would ask Mama to make the pastry from time to time, even after we were adults, and my children would beg her for it as well. She often made pastry with chicken but only once or twice a year made it with garden peas and potatoes. The novelty of the pretty pastry was appealing to us, I guess, because it was different and so very good.

In the early years, Mama made her own pastry strips. She’d roll out the flour and water-based mixture into thin strips and hang them around bowls to dry out a bit before dropping them into pots of steaming broth. That’s certainly how she would have made it when Susan and I were little girls instead of relying on the frozen version from the grocery store that she grew to love. I have her handwritten recipe for homemade pastry strips — although I’ve never made it — but I had no recipe for the garden pea and potato pastry.

Several years back, my children mentioned how much they’d like to have the pastry with the peas and potatoes again. They mentioned it a lot. I had never made it, but once they brought it up, I started craving it, too. Mama, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was no longer cooking, and asking her how she made it was not an option. I knew the basic idea of how to make it, but I had questions about the broth and how to cook the potatoes, so I called Mama’s sister, who helped me on several occasions over the years when I needed help in the kitchen.

As it turns out, it’s an easy recipe. Basically, you boil a chicken and make plenty of seasoned broth. After removing the chicken (which you can use for chicken salad or in a casserole) and straining the broth, cook some new potatoes in the broth until they are tender, and add the garden peas towards the end of the cooking time. Then drop in frozen pastry strips one at a time and cook until the strips are tender, stirring occasionally.

My son doesn’t like the peas, so I divide the broth and cooked potatoes into two pots before adding the peas.

I made garden pea and Irish potato pastry last week as the last family meal I cooked before my son packed up his room and moved out of town to start his first full-time job.

I couldn’t get fresh garden peas at the farmers market because I got there a little too late for the few that were available. But that’s OK, the frozen variety worked fine. I did however, come back from the farmers market with a container of freshly dug potatoes that I used in the pastry.

I mentioned the pastry to several people at the farmers market last week and later at the grocery store; I was curious if other families made it as well. I got similar responses at both places: "I haven’t had that since my grandmother made it for me.” "My mother-in-law used to make that.” "I haven’t had that in years!”

I felt like I was back in Mama’s kitchen when I first smelled the aroma coming from the pot of steaming pastry Thursday night; that’s a comforting feeling I don’t get too often anymore.

We all enjoyed our pastry, and I enjoyed recalling the story behind it. Makes me wonder if my children will ever make garden pea and Irish potato pastry for their kids one day. I sure hope so.

Garden Pea and Irish Potato Pastry
  • 1 3 to 4-pound chicken, cut-up
  • Water for boiling
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pint of small, new potatoes, scraped or cut into smaller pieces if desired =
  • 1 cup (approximately) garden peas (fresh is better, but frozen works well too)
  • Box of frozen pastry strips (I use Anne’s old-fashioned, frozen flat dumplings)
Place chicken in large pot and cover with water seasoned with salt and pepper. Boil until cooked through, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Remove chicken from broth and reserve for another use. Strain broth into another large pot.

Add potatoes to broth and simmer until tender. Add peas at end of cooking time to boil for about 5 minutes. Add pastry strips to simmering broth, one at a time. (You might not need the entire box.) Stir pastry to mix into broth and cook until tender. Add hot water if broth gets low. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Colorful pasta salad

We eat differently at my house in the summer months. I imagine that’s the story with your family as well.

There are many hot summer days when I go home for lunch that I want nothing more than cheese crackers and fruit, preferably watermelon mixed with strawberries and peaches.

I also love to eat pasta salads in the summer. It doesn’t require much effort to cook pasta, cut some vegetables and mix up a dressing for a dish that can provide lunch, or a side dish at least, for a few days.

I have a few standby pasta salad recipes that I like to make, but I’m always looking for something else to try for variety.

Today’s featured recipe is a pasta salad I first tried at the home Bill and Vicky Stewart in September. I liked the salad immediately, noting the dressing was different from any I had tried before.

A few days later, I asked Vicky about the pasta salad, and she told me how she made the easy dish. I tried it soon after, and my husband and I really enjoyed it.

The dressing is a mix of zesty Italian and creamy Caesar dressings. For her vegetables, she chose a diced red onion, green pepper, broccoli and tomatoes. She also mixed in a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. To intensify the flavors, she recommends mixing the peppers and onions with the dressings before adding in the other vegetables and pasta.

"I think it helped incorporate the flavors into the whole dish,” she said, adding it’s easy to adapt the recipe by switching up vegetables or adding colored peppers.

I made a double recipe of this pasta salad for my son’s graduation party. It’s a pretty dish for a party with the colorful vegetables. I made it again this week for lunches. The last few times I made it, I used fat-free Italian dressing rather than zesty Italian because that’s what I had in my pantry. For the vegetables, I filled a small container at my favorite salad bar with cherry tomatoes and broccoli and blended them into my salad (after cutting them into smaller pieces.)

Mix in some turkey pepperoni, and you’ll have a delicious meal for a hot summer day.

Vicky's Pasta Salad
  • 1 pound box rotini (spiral pasta)
  • 1 cup zesty Italian dressing (I used fat-free Italian)
  • 1 cup creamy Caesar dressing
  • Combination of favorite vegetables such as red onion, green pepper, broccoli and cherry tomatoes, cut in bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

While the pasta cooks, prepare vegetables and stir together dressings.

Mix peppers and onions with dressing before adding in the other vegetables, pasta and cheese.

Chill before serving.

Vicky Stewart