Garden peas are perfect for summer get togethers

Published 11:59 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

I hated peas as a child because all I ever knew were the canned variety. My father could never get a garden out early enough to grow peas. It was not until I grew my own and ate fresh green peas that I really appreciated the delicate flavor. Thomas Jefferson was an epicure and a great record keeper. He noted that it was the custom in Albemarle County where he lived in Virginia, for the gentlemen gardeners to compete for the honor of serving the first dish of green peas in the spring. Jefferson won the honor so often that one year he instructed the children to say nothing of their having had green peas to allow his friend and neighbor, Mr. George Divers, the pleasure that year of giving the great dinner.

In “The Virginia Housewife or, Methodical Cook” published in 1824, Mary Randolph (whose brother-in-law was married to Mr. Jefferson’s daughter) gives this on peas:

“To have them in perfection, they must be quite young, gathered early in the morning, kept in a cool place, and not shelled until they are to be dressed; put salt in the water, and when it boils, put in the peas; boil them quick, 20 or 30 minutes, according to their age; just before they are taken up, add a little mint chopped very fine; drain all the water from the peas, put in a bit of butter, and serve them up quite hot.”

When green and freshly shelled, peas do not need 20 to 30 minutes, one or two minutes simmered in a little water will do. Besides mint, dill, chives and nutmeg go well with peas.

This week we had our first peas.

Flans of Curried Peas

These exquisite little flans are wonderful as part of an all-vegetable meal. Taken from Vegetables in the French Style, by Roger Vergé.

For 4 servings

10 ounces young peas in their pod

2 eggs

½ cup heavy cream

A pinch of curry powder

1 teaspoon sugar


Shell the peas. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Bring a quart of water to the boil and add about 2 tablespoons salt. Add the peas, then immediately remove them, plunge them into cold water, and drain them. Purée them in a food processor, blender, or food mill, using the fine disk.

Bring a kettle of water to the boil.

In a bowl, whisk together the puréed peas, egg, cream, curry powder, sugar, and salt to taste. Check for seasoning; you may want to add a little more curry powder.

Butter for 3-inch soufflé molds or custard cups and fill them with the mixture. Place the molds in a baking dish and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the molds. Bake for about 30 minutes or until set.

Let the flans rest a few minutes, and then unmold them onto warmed plates.

Spring Pea Soup with Bacon Bread Crumbs

Serves 6

4 oz. bacon

2 slices white sandwich bread, processed into fine crumbs

2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint

2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup finely chopped shallots

2 lb. shelled fresh peas—English peas

4 cups chicken broth

¼ cup heavy cream

Heat cast-iron fry pan over medium high heat. Cook bacon, turning once, until crisp, 2-3 minutes per side; drain on paper towels.

Discard all but 1 Tbs. fat from pan, reduce heat to medium. Add bread crumbs; cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted and golden, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl. In mini processor, process bacon into fine bits. Stir bacon, mint, parsley, salt and pepper into bread crumbs. Set aside.

In 5 ½ qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add shallots; sauté until softened, 4-5 minutes. Stir in peas, broth, salt and pepper; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, simmer until peas are tender, 10-12 minutes. Stir in cream. Using food processor, purée soup in batches until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into warmed bowls; garnish with bacon bread crumbs. Serve immediately.

I did the following recipe last evening and it was really fun to do and very good. It will impress any guest so give it a try. It makes a great first course.

Pea and Parmesan Wonton Ravioli

Serves 4 (Makes about 32 Ravioli)

2 2/3 cups fresh peas

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus additional for serving

2 tsp. chopped mint

about 64 dumpling or wonton wrappers

¾ stick unsalted butter, melted

Cook peas in boiling salted water until just tender, 3-4minutes. Drain and cool, then purée in a food processor. Stir in cheese, mint, and ½ tsp salt and pepper.

Put a rounded tsp filling in center of a wrapper. Lightly brush edge of wrapper with water, then place a second wrapper on top and seal, pressing out any trapped air. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling, keeping ravioli covered as you work.

Boil ravioli in 2 batches in a pasta pot of salted boiling water until tender, 2-3 minutes per batch, removing with a slotted spoon. Drizzle with butter and sprinkle with cheese and pepper.