Spring linguini on pea purée
Dietary requirements, food intolerances, religious decrees and plain old proclamations of personal dislikes are now all in a day’s work for anybody in the food service industry. More than ever before, hospitality workers need to be able to decode dozens of dietary requirements on the spot.
Personally, I am fascinated by myriad dietary requirements and get to see the preferences from many perspectives. Thirty-five years of cooking spans many fads and, unfortunately, an era where not only are we getting sicker, but our choices are making the planet sicker, at a rate that seems faster even than our own technological advances. Each and every day people grappling with health issues and moral issues come through the doors of various food establishments.
Thirty-five years ago the most common dietary requirement that was written on a kitchen docket in shorthand was “no pork or shellfish”. We all immediately knew that this was a religious requirement and the guest was probably Jewish. I think if you had asked my 18-year-old self what the dietary requirements for a Muslim or a Hindu were, I would have stared at you blankly. Perhaps this says as much about the style of restaurant I was working in as the cultural mix of Melbourne in the early to mid ’80s. There was always the odd vegetarian, but they were few and far between. Trot through three-and-a-half decades and most restaurants would have a dietary requirement column on their running sheets that can often have notations on more than half the tables. Sometimes, just quietly, you can hear me humming a version of Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”, the 1959 satirical chant of all the known chemical elements, as I peruse my daily list of needs and set them to an alliterative song.
What is not amusing in the slightest is just how sick we are getting and why. The way we farm and produce food has changed as quickly and as dramatically as the needs of diners. Perhaps the easiest example to illustrate is gluten intolerance. People with gluten intolerance are not diagnosed coeliacs but find many products made with flour to be rough on their systems. Strangely they can eat proper sourdough where the gluten is broken down by the fermentation process and, increasingly, many can enjoy foods made with premium milled flours. What they appear to struggle with is food made with highly milled products that often have fillers and stretchers added to reduce the cost of the manufacture of the product and increase the profits of the multinationals at all stages of the process. These sorts of processes are now ubiquitous in our food chain and it is up to the individual to make choices about how and why they shape their food choices.
So where does this leave me and my funny little restaurant where I am the only cook and offer a “menu du jour” where food is often shared as it would be at home or at the home of friends? I try to make very careful choices about what I cook. All proteins are sourced from the most ethical producers I can find and I try to grow as much of the fruit and vegetables as I can for our use. I also use high-quality dry ingredients that take into account ideological and environmental concerns. And then there is the issue of decoding all the dietary requirements and fitting them into a menu that makes people still feel as though they are sharing a meal together. Often I am asked by people, “How can I cater for my vegan daughter-in-law at Christmas, or my coeliac aunt at Sunday lunch?” I suggest they make careful choices and adapt each course so that the person with special dietary requirements is eating “their” version of the dish.
This spring linguini is a beautiful dish that can spin on a five-cent piece to cater for all. The recipe is for a vegan bowl of pasta. But if you eat dairy, it is delightful with fetta or parmesan. If you eat meat, it is delicious with crisp chards of prosciutto. And if you are coeliac, replace the pasta with some beautiful green leaves, omit the croutes and have a spring salad that is along the same theme as everybody else’s pasta. And you can orchestrate all of that as you are plating up, just like I do at the kitchen bench as I work through my customer base that is vegan, vegetarian, pregnant, FODMAP, coeliac, no onion/garlic, no nuts, no dairy…
Spring linguini on pea purée
– 500g broad beans
– 250g asparagus
– 500g baby peas, podded weight
– 500g durum wheat, bronze-extruded linguini
– 50ml extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tbsp chopped chervil
– 1 tbsp chopped thyme
– 1 tbsp snipped chives
– ½ cup really coarse breadcrumbs, sprinkled with olive oil and salt and toasted in a 180ºC oven until golden
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the pasta. While it’s heating, put a small pot of water on for the peas and a small pot of water on for the broad beans.
Pod the broad beans, snap the asparagus and cut into spoon-sized pieces. When the little pots of water have boiled, cook the peas until just done, and blanch the broad beans. Set a quarter of the peas aside and purée the rest in a food processor. Adjust seasoning and set aside. Slip the broad beans out of their skins.
Cook the pasta and, about three minutes before it is ready, add the asparagus pieces. Drain. Place a large frying pan on the stove and warm the olive oil. Add the pasta, reserved peas, asparagus, broad beans, herbs and croutes and toss. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
Warm the pea purée, place on the bottom of the bowls and place the pasta on top.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 27, 2018 as "Something for everyone". Subscribe here.