Peas, Emerging From the Deep Freeze - The Buffalo News

Share this article

print logo

Peas, Emerging From the Deep Freeze

Which cuisine do you think of when you think about peas? French, with petits pois aux laitues? Italian, which offers piselli con prosciutto? Indian, and its mutter paneer? British, with buttered peas with mint?

And when you reach for peas, are they frozen or fresh?

Worldwide, most peas are consumed straight from the deep freeze. Many would argue that frozen peas are the better choice, for quality. They certainly can’t be beat in terms of convenience, and they do taste good. I am not immune to their charms when pea season is still a ways off.

But when you get the chance to eat sweet fresh green peas, you can’t help but notice the difference. To prove this point, chef Fergus Henderson serves diners a pile of raw peas in the pod at his renowned restaurant St. John in London. These ultrafresh peas (known worldwide as English peas, but called garden peas in England) are meant to be enjoyed as a hands-on nibble before dinner.

To serve raw peas like that, though, you need to know a good pod from a bad one. They should be just harvested, because peas, like corn, are inclined to go starchy once picked.

Look for peas that haven’t quite filled their pods; they will be sweeter. Reject those fat-firm pods containing overcrowded peas. The pods you want are bright green, juicy and flexible, with small peas. The same principle holds true for peas you intend to cook, unless you are making long-cooked peas simmered in sauce.

While you are shopping for peas, look for lush green leafy pea shoots, curly tendrils attached. Happily, they are becoming increasingly easy to find. The delicate pea-flavored leaves and stems can grace a salad bowl raw, and are delicious very lightly cooked. (Juvenile barely leafy pea sprouts can be used the same way.)

When you tire of raw or plain buttered English peas, turn to other varieties. Throw flat-podded snow peas or sugar snap peas into the wok for a spicy stir-fry, or consider the brothy risotto-like dish called risi e bisi. I like to use sugar snaps to make my fresh pea soup with miso, but when you get right down to it, all of these types of pea are really interchangeable as long as they’re young and tender. Spring is truly the time for peas, since they grow best in cool weather. They are happening now, so indulge.

Risi e Bisi

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, diced

1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice

Salt and pepper

6 cups hot chicken broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 ounces pancetta, diced

6 scallions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 fresh sage leaves

8 ounces shucked English peas, about 2 cups

4 ounces pea tendrils or shoots (or use baby spinach)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

½ teaspoon lemon zest

2 ounces grated Parmesan

Melt butter in a heavy, wide saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in rice and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups chicken broth and bring to a brisk simmer. Cook 6 minutes, stirring occasionally as broth is absorbed. Add 2 more cups broth and cook for another 6 minutes, until rice is cooked through, but firm.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook 2 minutes without browning. Add scallions, stir to coat and cook 1 minute. Add garlic, sage leaves and peas. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add ½ cup broth and simmer until peas are done, about 2 minutes. Add pea tendrils and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute.

Add pea mixture to rice mixture and gently stir together. Add enough broth to keep rice a bit soupy. Check seasoning. Stir in parsley, lemon zest and Parmesan and serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fresh Pea Soup With Miso

1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil

1 medium leek, diced, both white and tender green parts

¾ pound sugar snap peas, trimmed, then chopped

Salt and pepper

4 cups hot chicken broth or dashi

4 tablespoons white or red miso

4 ounces soft tofu

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

A few shiso (perilla) leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

Put oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add snap peas to pot and season well with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup water and simmer until peas are soft, about 3 minutes. Add broth and miso and cook 1 minute more.

Purée mixture in a blender, then pour through a fine mesh sieve, pressing with a wooden spoon to extract all liquid. Return strained soup to pot and check seasoning. (May be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated. Reheat just before serving.)

To serve, spoon a little tofu into each small soup bowl. Pour hot soup over. Garnish with scallions and shiso.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Spicy Wok-Charred Snow Peas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 to 8 small dried red chilies

1 pound snow peas, trimmed

1 bunch scallions, trimmed, chopped in 1-inch lengths

Salt and pepper

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro

Put vegetable oil in a wok over high heat. When oil looks wavy, add chilies and let sizzle for a few seconds.

Add snow peas and scallions and season well with salt and pepper. Cook vegetables over high heat, stirring constantly, until cooked through and lightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Peas should be bright green and crisp-tender.

Add garlic, ginger and sesame oil, toss well and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

There are no comments - be the first to comment