Monday, July 14, 2008


For those of you who are following along with us in eating seasonally, now is another of those once-a-year times when you can enjoy a special treat. Fresh garden peas are now available. I picked up some little beauties at Pierson’s Farm Stand in Bradford recently, and I note that Vital Communities latest communication directed us to locally available sources, if you don’t have some growing in your garden. The ones Rosemary and I planted in April are almost ready…I think we’ll be able to pick some this week. Of course, you end up eating a lot of them right off the vine.

While we speak of peas as a vegetable, technically they are a fruit, being the seeds of the legume plant pisum sativum. Peas are a cool weather plant so we usually see them in early summer as they can be planted in the very early spring, and most varieties have a growing season of about 60 days. Also popular are varieties where we eat not only the seeds, but also the edible pods; these are known as sugar snap peas where the pod is cylindrical and the seeds immature and snow peas where the pods are flat. Snow peas are usually associated with Asia cooking as they lend themselves to stir frying, but they are also delicious raw in a salad.

When selecting fresh peas, look for the littlest ones you can find. As peas mature, they get larger, harder and starchy. While still good, they are less interesting than the young baby peas, and need additional cooking time. If you have a copy of Julia Child’s classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she gives recipes for peas in three stages of development, from the smallest baby peas to the large, mature ones.

If we allow the peas to mature on the vine, they can be dried and will keep almost indefinitely. In the fall and winter we enjoy pea soup made with these dried legumes, and they provide a hearty nutritious meal when simmered with a ham bone or ham hock and diced vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Dried peas can be roasted and salted and then eaten as a snack, or flavored with wasabi, a spicy powder made from Japanese horseradish.

Garden peas, also known as English peas, do freeze well, so they are available year round from your freezer or the grocery store. They are one of the few frozen vegetables I use in the winter, but almost always in a dish with other ingredients, not as a stand-alone vegetable dish. They provide a nice visual appeal to winter pasta dishes or as a last minute addition to a hearty beef and vegetable stew.

Peas can be quickly simmered in boiling water and served with a pat of butter and a sprinkling of minced spearmint as a vegetable accompaniment to any protein like beef, chicken or fish, but especially salmon. But there are many other uses and here are a couple of ideas.

In Italy baby peas are included in a classic dish, risi e bisi or rice and peas. This dish can be made more or less soupy, depending on y our mood or use in the meal. Some serve it like a soup in a bowl, while others like a risotto on a plate. The key to its success is the freshness of the peas, so I make it during the height of the pea season and forget about it in the winter.

To serve 4 you will need 2 pounds of fresh peas in their pods. Shell the peas and reserve the pods to be used in making the broth in which to cook the rice. I use the best Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese I can find for this dish.

2 lb Fresh peas in the pods
1 ea. Yellow onion, small, diced
1 ea. Carrot, diced
1 ea. Garlic clove, small
1 ea. Bay leaf

4 tbl. Butter
2 oz. Pancetta, diced
1 ea. Yellow onion, medium, peeled and minced
1 ea. Garlic clove, minced
2 tbl. Extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
Freshly grated black pepper
¾ cup Flat leaf Italian parsley, minced
½ cup Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Shell the peas (usually out on the front porch) and reserve the pea pods. Place the pods in a medium saucepan, add the small onion, carrot, garlic clove, bay leaf and salt and cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook slowly for 45 minutes to an hour to make a pea-vegetable stock. Strain the stock into a small saucepan, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid you can. You should have about 6 cups of liquid.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta and minced onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are just starting to take on some color, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the olive oil, the garlic and the rice. The rice needs to be cooked in the hot fat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it turns opaque. Add a ¾ cup of the pea broth and cook slowly, stirring often until most of the broth has been absorbed. Add more stock and continue cooking, adding stock as needed, and stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. At this point, add the shelled peas and cook another 3 to 4 minutes until the rice is tender but still slightly firm, and the peas are just cooked through. Stir in the parsley, salt and pepper, the rest of the butter and ¼ cup of the cheese, reserving the rest for passing at the table. If you want to serve as a soup, add additional broth, about a cup and serve in soup bowls.

A New England tradition around 4th of July is to have a salmon with fresh peas and potatoes. Here’s how we make it at our house.

For 6 servings you will need the following:

2 lbs. New potatoes or fingerling potatoes
1 ¼ tsp. Salt
1 lb. Fresh peas, shelled
1 tbl. Fresh basil, chiffonade, or use fresh spearmint
Freshly grated black pepper
2 tbl. Butter
½ cup Cream, light or heavy
½ cup Parsley, minced

We leave the skin on the new potatoes, cutting them into pieces and simmering, covered, in about an inch of salted water until just done, 20 minutes or so. About 4 minutes before the potatoes are done, add the shelled peas, the basil and the butter. Uncover the pot to allow the water to mostly boil off, add the cream and minced parsley, bring just to the simmer, cook slowly for few minutes to allow the potatoes to absorb some of the cream, turn off the heat, correct the seasoning, and serve with poached or grilled salmon. Yummy!

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