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Tony Mantuano's Pea, Bacon and Pecorino Salad
While very good frozen peas are available all year long, they usually play the utility role, helping to perk up dishes with bright bursts of sweetness. As confident and well skilled as they may be, rare is when peas get to stand up in the limelight on their own (or, perhaps, on the Green Giant's shoulders?).
But leave it to Tony Mantuano, chef of Chicago's Spiaggia, to give the petite spring vegetable its due. This recipe from Wine Bar Food not only uses fresh peas, but also calls for pea shoots, pea sprouts, and sugar snap peas. All this makes for one bright green, crisp, and fresh salad. To help bulk things out, some croutons are quickly sautéed up, along with some fatty bacon. The salad is then finished off with few shavings of salty Pecorino.
Why I Picked This Recipe: I first came across this recipe during the middle of winter, when making this salad would have been impossible. Instead, I waited until fresh peas were available at the farmers' market. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the fresh vegetable.
What Worked: I love how this salad balances flavors and textures. The peas and snap peas are crunchy and sweet, while bacon is left a little chewy. The shoots are delicate and tender, while the croutons are crisp and oily. This all means that each bite tastes different, as you pick up different elements.
What Didn't: Just about every dish in Wine Bar Food is considered a small plate, so this probably needs another element if you're going to stretch it into a full meal. Honestly, I just ate two servings and was cool with it, but I can see other people wanting a salmon fillet or something like that.
Suggested Tweaks: The recipe also calls for pea sprouts, an ingredient that I couldn't seem to track down. In the recipe write-up, Mantuano notes that you can just use more pea shoots if you can't find the sprouts.