I like to tread carefully where fresh English peas are concerned. They are delicate and their season is short so I try to make the most of it, usually by doing as little as possible: shell, sauté briefly, season lightly, eat. Or blanch, mash with a few droplets of oil, spread on crostini, eat.
In which case you might think that these peas, the ones in the picture, are overcooked. It’s true they’ve lost their bright green hue and, as you can plainly see, their crunchy just-shelled texture.
But to me they are just right. Peas cooked a little past that bright green stage have a rich buttery taste, and they do a nice job of absorbing the flavor of whatever you are cooking them in ~ in this case, a light tomato sauce.
I made this the other day after buying two quarts of fresh peas in their pods at the farmers’ market. You certainly don’t have to shell two quarts of peas. Frozen peas work just as well (see the note at the end of the recipe for instructions on how to freeze fresh peas). I happened to be watching the French Open and the task of shelling made me feel slightly less idle and guilty. I served them as a side dish to grilled salmon. But they would go just as nicely with white fish or grilled lamb chops or a frittata.
Fresh or frozen, peas please.
This is a traditional Italian preparation in which peas are cooked over gentle heat with just enough tomato to round out their flavor. Since tomatoes aren't yet in season where I live, I used diced canned tomatoes. If you can find good ripe Roma tomatoes, use those instead. Two, peeled, seeded and diced, should be enough.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 spring onion, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes
- 2 cups shelled English peas (2 scant quarts unshelled)
- A splash or two of chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- A couple of fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
Measure the olive oil into a medium skillet and add the sliced spring onion. Set the skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring often, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the onion is softened. Stir in the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the peas and a splash of broth or water. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring from time to time, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the peas are tender and have lost their bright hue, but are still green and intact (keep an eye on them to make sure they don't veer towards brown or turn mushy). Serve hot or warm.
NOTE: Fresh peas should be eaten soon after they are shelled, as their sugars quickly turn to starch and they lose their sweetness. You can use frozen peas in place of fresh, or you can freeze your own: Shell the peas. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Have ready a large bowl filled with ice water. Tip the shelled peas into the boiling water, cover and cook for 90 seconds. Using a mesh or slotted spoon, fish out the peas and dump them right into the bowl of ice water. Let them sit for 90 seconds, then drain thoroughly in a colander set in the sink. Lay a clean kitchen towel on a tray and carefully dump the peas onto it to dry them a little. Place the peas in sandwich-size zipper lock bags, removing as much air as possible and sealing them well. Freeze for up to 12 months.