Quick! Peas are very versatile

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2014

Peas are the ultimate springtime treat. They are sweet and tender, quick to cook and incredibly versatile. What is great about tender young peas aside from their sweet, crunchy flavor is that they take only a few minutes to cook. The secret to maintaining their sweetness and bright-green color is to cook  them as little as possible, just enough to make them tender.

They lend themselves to almost any cooking method, from boiling and steaming to sautéing, stir-frying, and quick-braising.

Peas’ mild sweetness pairs well with many different flavors. Cured meats like bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, smoked ham, and chorizo work wonderfully with peas, as their pronounced saltiness complements peas’ gentle flavor. Fresh mint if also a classic flavor partner, bringing peas to life in an instant. There’re also a natural with onions, scallions, and other alliums, and they go well with spring vegetables like asparagus, new potatoes, carrots, and fava beans.

Below are three pea recipes (a soup, pasta dish, and a salad) and remember that if you do not have a garden with fresh peas you can substitute frozen peas. Frozen peas are usually picked when they are young and immediately frozen, so they are often sweeter than fresh peas that have been hanging around too long. Our peas are a little late this year as has been everything in the garden.

From the Spring Issue of ‘Fine Cooking’ 2014.

Pea, Butter Lettuce, and Herb Salad
Serves 4
1 cup fresh shelled peas (about 1 lb. unshelled) or frozen peas
Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small head butter lettuce, washed and dried, leaves town into bite-size pieces
6 medium radishes, thinly sliced
4 scallions (white and light-green parts) thinly sliced on the diagonal
¼ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf-parsley leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh chervil leaves
2 teaspoons very coarsely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
3 oz. ricotta salata, shaved thinly with a vegetable peeler

Blanch peas in boiling salted water for 2-4 minutes. Drain and spread them on a baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil with the lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving toss the peas in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Toss the butter lettuce, radishes, scallions, and herbs in a large bowl with just enough of the remaining dressing to lightly coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Peas and Spinach Soup with Coconut Milk
Serves 6
2 large leeks (or two cups chopped scallions or 2 cups thinly sliced white onions)
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. white basmati rice
1 tsp. salt, more to taste
2 tsp. curry powder
4 sprigs fresh cilantro, more for garnish
4 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ to 2 lb. peas, shucked about 2 cups
4 cups lightly packed coarsely chopped spinach leaves, any thick stems removed
7 oz. coconut milk (about 1 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the rice. Scoop the clean leeks from the water, and add them to the pot along with the salt, curry powder, cilantro, and 1 cup of the broth. Cook over medium-low heat at a vigorous simmer for about 12 minutes, so the rice is almost done.

Add the remaining 3 cups stock, the peas, and the spinach and bring to a boil. Boil for about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk.

In a blender or food processor, purée the soup in batches until smooth. Taste for salt, season with white pepper and serve, garnished with fresh cilantro leaves.
Fusilli with Peas and Feta

Serves 4
Kosher salt
1 ½ cups lower-salt chicken broth
1 lb. fresh or frozen peas (about 3 cups)
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. dried fusilli pasta
4 oz. feta, finely crumbled (about 1 cup)
Lemon wedges for serving

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat,

In a 3-quart saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil over high-heat. Add the peas and cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and using a slotted spoon, remove and reserve 1 cup of the peas. Transfer the broth and the remaining peas to a blender. Add the olive oil, all but 1 tsp. of the dill, 1 ¼ tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper and blend until smooth. It is fine if the sauce looks thin at this point.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with the pasta with the sauce, the reserved peas, and ¾ cup of the feta. Serve garnished with the remaining ¼ cup feta and 1  tsp. dill, with lemon wedges on the side.