The green shelled garden pea is just one of a variety of edible peas that are literally here today and gone tomorrow. The vegetable needs warmth but not heat and so its tiny time frame is late spring to early summer. An ancient vegetable, it is known to have existed from seeds since 5,000 BC. Green peas eaten fresh were a later variety and in 17th century France, peas were refined into the most desirable kind we have today, the tender sweet petit pois.
Peas are like sweet corn – their sugars begin to convert to starch immediately after picking – and unless we are growing them ourselves, or buying them from a farmer who grows them, we will miss that “sweet garden pea taste” we can only fantasize about. Today in the United States, most of the pea crop is canned or frozen and for some inexplicable reason is one of the least objectionable in either state.
Not to be deprived of this gentle vegetable off-season, I will also use the frozen variety of petit pois in my cooking. With fresh mint currently taking over the garden, I try to not let the season pass without preparing the minty sweet peas of the late Sheila Lukens of Silver Palate fame. This is also the perfect time to revive my colleague Giuliano Bugialli’s fresh peas with pancetta, which he prepared in a cooking class some years ago. And, finally, I include one of my favorites, petit pois a la Francaise, the classic recipe with scallions and Boston lettuce.
Here are three delectable recipes using garden fresh peas – French, Italian and one from the good old U.S.A. Enjoy!
PETIT POIS A LA FRANCAISE
With fresh garden peas now available at local farm stands, try this classic recipe.
Serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 bunches scallions, rinsed, trimmed and cut into thirds
1 small head Boston lettuce, washed and spin-dried
2 pounds fresh peas
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh chervil or parsley
1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil. Add peas in their pods, cover pot, return to the boil and remove from heat. Drain the pods in a colander at once and run cold water over them to stop the cooking.
2. Open the pods right in the colander and with your thumb run the peas into the colander. Discard the pods as you open them.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and sauté scallions for a few minutes until tender. Do not allow them to brown. Shred lettuce into half-inch julienne strips and place over the scallions. Scatter peas over the lettuce and season with remaining ingredients. Dot with remaining butter and cover pan. Can be done ahead to this point. Do not stir peas.
4. When ready to serve, simmer over medium heat for 12 to 14 minutes. Stir through with a large spoon and serve at once.
PISELLI CON LA VENTRESCA
(PEAS WITH PANCETTA)
This is the time to revive a recipe taught by author/educator Giuliano Bugialli in a cooking class some years ago.
1 large yellow onion, cleaned and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter (lard was used in an ancient recipe)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, coarsely ground
2 pounds fresh shelled peas or 2 pounds frozen “petit pois”
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Place onion, butter and oil in a medium casserole and set casserole over medium heat. Sauté onion until translucent about 4-5 minutes, then add the pancetta, stir to mix and sauté for 2-3 minutes longer. Add peas and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the peas until soft, about 15 minutes, adding some lukewarm water as needed. Peas should not be very wet. Serve hot
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons freshly-grated local Pecorino or Pecorino Romano
Lightly beat eggs with the cheese and add to the above 2 minutes before peas are removed from the heat.
SHEILA LUKINS’ MINTY SWEET PEAS
The most delectable, tender fresh peas will be found in late spring. Frozen petit pois will do the job nicely any other time of the year.
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cups shelled fresh peas (2 pounds unshelled)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1. Fill a small saucepan with lightly salted water to a depth of 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil, and add the sugar and the peas. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the peas are bright green and tender, 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Drain and place in a serving bowl. Toss the peas with the butter, salt, pepper and chopped mint. Serve immediately.
Adapted and reprinted from Sheila Lukins’ U.S.A. Cookbook, Workman Publishing Co., 1997.
For more recipes and cooking news, check out Silvia’s new website, www.savoringthehamptons.com. [/expand]