Alan Tangren: Please don’t hate peas
Dear Alan: Some people rhapsodize over peas, but I’ve never been fond of them. They seem so boring and stodgy. I’d love some fresh ideas on how to cook them.
A: I think many cooks, and good eaters, share your reluctance to embrace peas.
Most peas are processed and quick-frozen, or worse, canned; robbing these beauties of any semblance of fresh flavor. But fresh peas are one of the true spring pleasures, and they appear in the market in many guises.
English peas are the ones in the big pods that are usually shelled before eating. But there are also the smaller sugar snap peas that are eaten shell and all. A third kind are snow peas, pale green and in a flattened pod. The tender tips or shoots of the pea vine are also very edible.
Peas are one of the first of the true spring vegetables, coming on the heels of asparagus and artichokes. They have a short season, starting slowly in April and ending with the first big heat of late spring.
When shopping for any kind of pea, the pods will tell you if they are fresh. Look for small, firm pods with bright green color for their type. Listen for a squeak when you rub two pods together.
Store fresh peas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but try to use them as soon as possible. Peas start to loose their sweetness as soon as they are harvested.
English peas are easy to shell, but buy more than you think you will need, as some of the pods may have very small immature peas inside.
To prepare sugar snap and snow peas, snap back each end and pull down to remove the string on each side. They may then be cooked whole or cut into half-inch bias strips.
Pea greens are usually ready to use after a quick rinse, but pull off any wilted or yellowing leaves.
Add a big handful of fresh shelled peas or cut-up pod peas to a vegetable risotto 10 minutes or so before the end of the cooking time. Add any kind of fresh peas or pea shoots to a Chinese stir-fry.
Make an easy green pea soup. Stew some chopped spring onions and a minced clove of garlic in butter in a covered pan until tender but not browned. Add fresh-shelled peas and a handful of the brightest looking pods, and add water to cover.
Simmer until the peas are tender. Purée in a blender and strain back into the pan to remove any strings left from the pods. Add water and cream to thin the puree. Season with salt and pepper and some chopped mint, parsley or chives. Serve chilled or reheat to just under the boiling point before serving.
To feature peas as separate course, you can steam them over lettuce leaves as British food writer Jane Grigson suggests.
Peas over lettuce leaves
1 small head tender lettuce, such as Boston or bibb, rinsed and separated into leaves
6 chopped spring onions
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 Tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
¼ cup water
1 pound shelled peas
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
Fresh-ground black pepper
Layer a pan with lettuce leaves and then onions. Add parsley, salt, butter, water, peas and carrots. Cover and cook slowly for 20 minutes. The water should be almost completely evaporated.
Season with a pinch of sugar and a little pepper. Serve the peas with the lettuce and juices from the pan.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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