Spring in Italy and France is the time when fresh young garden peas grace the dinner table. Here, we know these legumes as green peas or English peas. Spring is the only time when you’ll find these sweet, delicate and nutritious legumes for sale in their fresh, uncanned and unfrozen state.
Shoppers at the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market can find fresh English peas in the pod or they can buy containers of shelled green peas. Shelling the peas yourself is fairly easy and not too labor-intensive. The pods readily split open and and you can quickly remove them. The pods themselves have more fiber than sugar snap peas and snow peas. English pea pods are not eaten, unlike their cousins with edible pods. You can, however, use them to flavor vegetable stock or broth.
I like adding a handful of fresh peas directly to my tossed salads, and, of course, snacking on them straight from their shells. The recipe for petite pois a la francaise is practically as quick as eating peas right from their shells. While it does contain peas and white pearl onions, it is light years away from the peas and onions you may remember from Thanksgiving dinners. For those who like a little bit of color on their dinner table, I’ve included a variation which uses fresh red bell peppers as well as the traditional peas and lettuce.
My father, an avid fan of Italian food, said that pasta with fresh green peas and bits of prousciutto was his favorite dish. Fresh English pea and mint soup is a delightful starter to any meal. I’ve adopted a Gordon Ramsay recipe so it will be suitable for vegetarians.
Petits pois a la francaise
1 small head butter or buttercrunch lettuce
2 c. fresh peas
12 pearl onions, skins removed
(substitute 1 – 1 1/2 c. chopped spring onions, white and light green parts only, for the pearl onions, if available)
4 parsley sprigs
4 oz. butter
1/4 c. water
1/2 t salt
Generous pinch sugar
Wash lettuce and tear leaves off of stem. Gently chop the larger leaves in half, and cut all the leaves into thin strips. Place lettuce, peas and onions in large pot. Place parsley sprigs on top. Cut butter into small cubes and sprinkle over vegetables. Pour _ cup of water over vegetables. Add a generous pinch of sugar and _ t. salt.Remove outer leaves from the head of lettuce and remove stem. Cut lettuce head into quarters. Tie quarters together with kitchen string and place in a large pot. Add the peas and peeled pearl onions. Tie parsley sprigs together with fine kitchen string and place on top. Cut up butter and sprinkle on top of vegetables. Pour in the water. Sprinkle on the salt and sugar. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes medium-low heat. Make sure water does not completely evaporate. Remove parsley sprigs before serving.
Green Peas with Onions, Lettuce and Red Pepper
1 cup chopped spring onions, white and light green parts only
2 cups shelled fresh peas
1 red sweet pepper, cored and seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup finely shredded iceberg or butter lettuce
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Gently saute the spring onions in 1 _ t. butter until they begin to soften. Then, combine all ingredients in a small heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting cover. Add 3 tablespoons of water, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 5-7 minutes. Do not overcook.
Dad’s favorite Fettuccine with Peas and Prosciutto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 thinly sliced prosciutto, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2cups shelled fresh English peas
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil, to taste
freshly grated Parmesan
16 ounces fettuccine
Shell the peas, if not already shelled. Start a pot of water for cooking the pasta as you prep the rest of the ingredients. When the water is boiling, start the pasta. Cook fettuccine according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, then the prosciutto, tossing to coat with oil and separate the pieces. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, reducing the heat if it starts to smoke. Add garlic to pan and cook until just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add peas and toss to mix ingredients. Sauté for 1 or 2 minutes, then add cream. Toss to coat prosciutto- pea mixture. Drain fettuccine and add it to the pan. Toss to combine. If desired, drizzle with extra olive oil and toss to coat. Divide among 4 shallow bowls, using tongs to pick up pasta. Much of the prosciutto pea mixture will remain behind in the pan. Use a spoon to top each serving of pasta with it. Grate some fresh parmesan over each bowl before serving.
Vegetarian Minted Pea Soup
Large handful of mint leaves
2 cups fresh green peas
pinch of salt
1/2 c. crème fraiche
mint leaves to garnish
Add the mint leaves to a medium saucepan of boiling salted water. Bring back to the boil, then add the peas and blanch for 2-3 minutes until they are just tender and still bright green. Drain, reserving the liquor. Tip the peas and mint into a blender. Add just enough of the hot liquid to cover and puree until smooth. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil and all but 4 tbsp crème fraîche. Season and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Pour the soup into warm bowls and dollop the reserved crème fraîche on top. Garnish with mint leaves. (Adopted from a recipe by Gordon Ramsay)
Katie Malich enjoys visualizing whirled peas- and world peace.