File this under the easiest party recipes you’ll ever make: Take a runny, stinky, washed-rind cheese, scrape the top off with a spoon, then serve the oozing disk as a dip with raw sugar snap peas on the side. It requires about five minutes of effort if you trim the peas (fancy), two minutes if you don’t (rustic). It’s a dish more about shopping than cooking, but the result is voluptuous, unexpected and impossible to stop eating.
The beauty of this combination isn’t just that you’re offering your guests two already compelling things to eat. It’s that both the cheese and the peas are even better when eaten together. The juicy, crisp pea pods offset the unctuous creaminess of the Camembert or Epoisses (or what have you), making it seem almost virtuous. And the cheese gives the lean, sweet pods some richness, funk and a necessary dose of salt.
As good as my original dish is, it definitely qualifies as casual party fare. Here, I offer a slightly more refined version, taking the same ingredients but elevating them into a plated appetizer, something to savor while sitting at a table rather than elbowing your way to the kitchen island.
The major difference is in technique. Rather than leaving the peas raw, I quickly blanch them in salted water, which seasons the pods thoroughly and softens their texture ever so slightly. You still want a crunch, but a gentle one. After blanching, I plunge the peas into a salted ice bath, which, unlike an unsalted ice bath, preserves that seasoning rather than washing it all off. It’s a good technique for any dense vegetable.
In terms of the cheese, I make it easy on my guests, spreading a thin bed of it on each plate before adding the peas. To finish the dish off with a flourish, I top the plates with lightly dressed greens. Pea shoots are perfect if you can find them, but any baby greens or microgreens will work.
Don’t use regular salad greens here. You want a tender jumble as an accent, but they shouldn’t overshadow the peas and cheese. Because whether you’re eating them at a crowded cocktail party or at a properly set dinner table, they are indeed the delectable point.
Sugar Snap Pea Salad
Salt and black pepper
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 teaspoon minced green garlic or 1/2 teaspoon minced regular garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
4 ounces pea shoots, ends trimmed, or use baby arugula or microgreens
10 ounces ripe, runny Camembert (or another washed-rind cheese such as Epoisses or vacherin)
1 tablespoon finely chopped chervil or chives
BRING a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of well-salted ice water. Drop peas into boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 minute; use a slotted spoon to transfer peas to ice water to cool completely. Drain well and pat dry with a towel.
IN a small bowl, whisk together garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in oil. Add pea shoots or arugula and toss to coat.
SCOOP out runny cheese from inside rind and spoon onto 4 small plates, smoothing the cheese to cover most of the plate. Scatter snap peas on top of cheese. Drizzle with olive oil. Mound greens over peas. Sprinkle with chervil or chives and serve.
Yield: 4 appetizer servings.