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Deborah Madison is *the* original Vegetarian foodwriter, inspired and inspiring, and a pioneer in her very green field, showing us how to get extraordinary elegance, heartening earthiness and, always, flavour, flavour, flavour, out of the fruits of the earth. I have long loved her 'Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone' (recently updated as The New Vegetarian Cooking') and 'The Greens Cookbook'; I remember fondly, elegiacally, an enchanted dinner with my husband John at the late, lamented Greens Restaurant in San Francisco when I was young. So for me, this, her most recent book, is both a source of joy, and a must-have volume. Think of it as an enquiry, in the old lettered sense, into the botanical world: a grounded reflection on the life of plants (in the earth and in the kitchen) and a vibrant compendium of recipes which celebrate them.


Peas With Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs

Credit: Reprinted with permission from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

Photography (c) 2013 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton


A light supper for 2

Faced with a cup of just-shucked peas, my mind runs in a million directions. Should I simmer them with soft butter lettuce leaves, pair them with pasta, or flatter their delicacy with new sage leaves and their blossoms, fresh mint, or lemon (or even all three)? Basil is lovely with peas, too. I could add them to that meager handful of fava beans that are waiting for company, or use them to make a frothy green soup. After scanning the possibilities, I end up cooking them with minced shallot, sage, and lemon, then spooning them over baked ricotta with crispy bread crumbs. This is one of my favorite dishes.

Olive oil
1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped full-fat ricotta
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
4 teaspoons butter
2 large shallots or ½ small onion, finely diced (about ⅓ cup)
5 small sage leaves, minced (about 1½ teaspoons)
1½ pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, ½ cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much. Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.