From the Culinary Underground: Fresh Peas – Please!

(image via Flickr)

[This is the latest in an ongoing guest series brought to you by Southborough’s Culinary Underground. This week Chef Lori shares a culinary epiphany along with a wonderful springtime recipe.]

My mother hates peas, so I didn’t grow up eating them. Oh, sure occasionally, if a recipe called for them, Mom would open up a can of the little grey things, but they certainly were not front and center on our dinner table.

Fast forward many years to find me as a young bride, sitting at my new mother-in-laws kitchen. She was shucking peas…real, fresh, English peas in the pod – not Green Giant canned or Clarence Birdseye frozen. I thought, “Boy, how am I going manage this? Peas…instant yuck”. At dinner, I quietly helped myself to a midget portion of peas. After chasing them around the plate, I poked a few peas onto my fork, chewed briefly, and pow! Epiphany! The peas actually popped in my mouth, releasing an incredible sweet-like-sugar herbal savor. It was a life-changing culinary experience.

So here I stand, a total fresh-pea convert and have also turned my family into loyal acolytes as well. But alas! Here’s the hitch: fresh peas have a short season. Very short. And less than 5% of the pea crop is sold fresh, adding to the scarcity. So I’m writing about them to alert people to how very sweet and delicious fresh peas are and to warn
them not miss the boat!

Look for firm, bright green pods – smaller is better. They will appear under various aliases: English peas, sweet peas, spring peas. You’ll need about 1 pound of peas in the pod to yield about 1 cup. The pods are not edible, but you can wash them, cover with a lightly salted water, and simmer for about half hour for a great pea broth – terrific
in risotto! Oh and by the way, peas are actually good for you: a cup is equal in protein to a whole egg and they contain almost no fat.

So, if you love fresh peas, act fast! If you’ve never experienced them fresh or think you might hate them, I’ll paraphrase John Lennon: just give peas a chance.

Here’s a recipe for you to enjoy with your fresh peas. I like to call it The Four Peas!

Penne with Pancetta, Parmesan and Peas
(4-6 servings)

1 pound penne pasta, uncooked
1 pound fresh peas in the pod
3 ounces pancetta, diced
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt freshly ground black pepper

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, reserving about ½ Cup of the pasta-cooking water. Transfer pasta to a large warm bowl.

Shuck the peas and rinse them briefly; you should have about 1 cup. Drop the peas into lightly salted boiling water. Simmer briskly, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Brown the pancetta in a large nonstick skillet over MEDIUM heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl. Add the oil and garlic to the pan and cook until the garlic just begins to sizzle.

Immediately pour the hot oil over the pasta, add the pancetta, peas, and remaining ingredients. Toss well, adding a little of the pasta cooking water to lubricate the pasta. Serve immediately.

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11 years ago

I love fresh peas! I’ve discovered that the sweetest fresh peas are those grown, picked and sold closest to home. So shop for peas at farm stands and farmer’s markets that grow their own.

11 years ago

My family has a summer place in Maine near a farm where pick your own peas and strawberries are a summer tradition. There is nothing like fresh peas, raw, straight out of the pod. My kids actually prefer them over the strawberries and snack on all they can when we get them. We hit the fields and leave with bags fuil, but they don’t last long – they are like candy! If you know of anywhere here that sells pick your own I would love to find out.

11 years ago

My favorite veggie growing up. I was always the shucker….1 for me, 2 for the pot.

11 years ago
Reply to  MarthaB

Oops. I mean 2 for me, 1 for the pot!

11 years ago

Peas are very easy to grow and really don’t take up a lot of space. and if you get them in early enough you can plant flowers after they are gone. Garden fresh peas freeze nicely. Not quite fresh but better than anything you can buy in the store.

11 years ago

I kept trying to grow peas, but the bunnies always got to them before I could! Not so dumb are they?

Sue Rosenthal
11 years ago

@Helen – It sometimes helps to plant marigolds in amongst the peas. Bunnies and other critters (like woodchucks) don’t like the smell of them. :-)

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