Whether from a childhood Halloween costume, grocery delivery service, or maternity outfitter, we’re all familiar with the concept of peas in a pod. But for all this anthropomorphizing of the charming vegetable, how often do you actually see a pea in its pod?
There are snow peas, the flat, slightly crescent shaped legumes common in Asian stir-fries, but like green beans and sugar snap peas, these pods can be consumed shell and all. Then, there are the lumpy bags of crystallized peas found in the freezer section. But, once upon a time, there was such a thing as a shelling pea, a long, waxy-skinned pod, lined with vibrant green orbs.
In the movies, shelling or garden peas (as they are commonly known), play a starring role in porch scenes where Southern women hull away the afternoon. This week, I came across a literary reference to shelling peas, which sent me straight to the farmers’ market.
“I love how you can snap a pea’s stem and pull the string and how it leaves a perfect seam that opens easily under your thumbnail. And then you find those sweet, starchy peas in their own canoe of crisp, watery, and almost sugary pod.”
-Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones & Butter
When you find them, pick smaller, taut-skinned pods that look and feel as if they’re inflated and use them within one to three days, to avoid overly starchy peas.
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Fresh Peas with Spring Onions
This simple recipe can stand alone as a versatile side, or use it to transform an everyday dish into a seasonal stunner. See how below. One pound of pods will yield about 1 ½ cups of peas.
1 pound shelling peas
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
4 spring onion bulbs (or 1 medium red onion), coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper
To shell peas: snap back the stem end of a pod and pull the string along the seam. Open the pod (if it’s being stubborn, I like to hold the pod between thumbs and pointers and press the seamed side towards one another to pop open the pod). Brush peas from pod into a bowl.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add peas and 1/4 cup water or broth and simmer until peas are tender and liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Dress It Up - For a sophisticated version of this side dish, add a glug of white wine or sherry to the pan after the peas and before the water, then stir in a chopped fresh herb, like tarragon or chervil, just before serving.
Fresh Pea Carbonara: Cook 1 pound spaghetti according to package directions; drain and reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water. Return pasta to pot along with prepared peas and onions, 1 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a splash of pasta water; heat through. Serve piping hot, topped with an egg yolk.*
*I go weak in the knees for carbonara served with a fresh, organic yolk that I can break and stir into the steaming pasta; it’s DIVINE. If you prefer to cook the yolk, whisk it with a couple teaspoons of water and stir it in while reheating the pasta over low heat. Or just leave it out.
Peas and Cheese Omelet: Prepare omelet following Tracey’s Scrambled Omelet recipe and fill with prepared peas and onions, and crumbled goat cheese.
Chicken and Peas Pot Pies: To make the white sauce, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Whisk in 1 tablespoon flour and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of whole milk and bring to a boil, whisking, until thickened; season with salt and pepper. Combine the white sauce, prepared peas and onions, and about 2 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken (or chopped-up leftover cooked chicken) and pour into a square baking dish, or divide between ramekins for individual pies. Top with a sheet, or rounds (cut with cookie cutters), of store-bought, frozen puff pastry and bake according to pastry package directions.
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