All About Peas
You probably don't need to be told to eat peas soon after picking. That's easy to do because they are so irresistible. However, if you aren't eating them immediately, store them in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge, but don't store them for long because they quickly lose sweetness and become starchier.
There are three common types of peas: English shelling peas, sugar snap peas, and snow peas.
Snow peas are the easiest to recognize because of their characteristic flatness and ubiquitousness in Chinese food. They are less sweet than the other types and, of course, wonderful in stir fries or salads.
Sugar snap peas, as their name would imply, are deliciously sweet. These are bright green and plump with shiny, edible pods. I find it difficult to resist eating them raw, unadorned, for their juicy, crunchy sweetness. The pod itself is thicker walled and less pliable than the pods of English peas.
Like snap peas, English peas are also plump, also bright green but with a duller sheen and often larger. Compared with English peas, the pod itself feels like a thin skin and is not, to my knowledge, edible (or at least not typically eaten). These are shelled to get at the peas, which are firm and often quite sweet. Snacking on English peas while shelling them is a late spring-early summer pleasure.
To trim sugar snap or snow peas: Hold a paring knife in one hand and the sugar snap in the other, with the inside curve of the pod facing you. Sever the top of the pea and pull off the tough string that runs along the length of the pod. It’s not necessary to remove the other end, though you can if you’d like.
Excellent advice on harvesting and storing peas from University of Minnesota. They should be cooled immediately after picking. Dunk them in very cold water (after shelling, if using English peas), dry them, and refrigerate for up to one week.
Blanch sugar snap, snow, or shelled English peas by immersing in boiling salted water for 90 seconds, then in an ice bath for 90 seconds. Dry thoroughly and freeze in containers as airtight as possible. As with all produce, freezing on a tray before bagging helps keep the peas from clumping into one big block of ice but this is necessary only if you do not freeze a larger portion size than you intend to use at once.
Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Peas
A perfect example can be found in their Spring risotto with asparagus and peas (adapted from Fields of Greens cookbook, by Annie Somerville).
- The carrot adds color and sweetness but is not necessary.
- The saffron brings an interesting flavor note, but should not require a special trip to the store if not on hand.
- White wine can lift this dish, brightening the starchiness, but is not necessary, especially if the risotto is served as a side dish with other brighter flavors.
- Similarly, parsley adds a fresh bright taste and some color but can be substituted by other herbs or omitted. If parsley will be used it should be fresh – there is no place for dried parsley in a kitchen.
- And of course, vegans and dairy-avoiders will omit the parmesan. Simple omission is fine. Many substitute nutritional yeast flakes in part for an umami flavor offered by cheese. A squeeze of lemon could help replace the bite of the parmesan. I suspect miso could alternatively be used to provide this flavor.
- 6 cups stock, brought to a boil and then kept warm over very low heat. Original recipe calls for Tomato-mushroom stock (if you make this recipe reduce to 6 cups before using)
- Salt and pepper
- 3-4 cups cleaned and trimmed spring vegetables. Use one or a combination of the following:
- Asparagus, with woody stems discarded, cut into 2-inch lengths on a diagonal
- Sugar snap peas, strings removed
- English peas, shelled
- 3 Tb butter or oil or a combination. Suggested is 1 Tb extra-virgin olive oil and 2 Tb unsalted butter or earth balance
- ½ medium-size yellow onion, cut into ½-inch pieces (about ½ cup – not critical to be exact)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice (this should not be substituted unless you would be happy with more of a pilaf type dish)
- 1 medium-size carrot, diced, about ¾ cup (can omit)
- A generous pinch saffron threads, soaked in 1 Tb hot water (optional)
- ½ cup dry white wine (can omit)
- 1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated, approximately 1/3 cup, plus more to serve at the table (or can omit)
- 2 Tb coarsely chopped Italian parsley (can omit)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add ¼ tsp salt. For whichever spring vegetables you are using, blanch them separately, in turn: drop them into the boiling water, and watch them closely while they cook to ensure they're tender yet retain their bright green color and some crunch (approximate times: snap peas and English peas, approximately 2 minutes; asparagus, 1.5-2 minutes). Rinse under cool water or submerge in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet and add the onion, ¼ tsp salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until it begins to soften. Then add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two.
Add the rice and the carrot to the onion and sauté over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add saffron now if using. Begin adding the stock a cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each cup of stock completely before adding more. Keep stirring. (NOTE: the recipe as written advises continual stirring, as do many risotto recipes. This is apparently a controversial topic, and a wonderful risotto can be achieved with less attention).
When the rice has absorbed 3 cups of stock, add the wine (if using) and ¼ tsp salt. Continue to add the stock, stirring constantly, until you have used 5 to 5 ½ cups. As you stir in the last of the stock, add the peas and asparagus, ¼ tsp salt, and a few pinches of pepper. At this point the grains of rice will be a little toothy, the risotto will be quite saucy, and it should be ready to serve. To enrich the risotto, stir in 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Add the parsley and serve immediately with the remaining Parmesan.
Serves four to six.
Snap Peas with Sesame Vinaigrette
Because they're so fun to eat raw, rarely do fresh peas make it to my stovetop. But quickly blanching them and dressing them is a fast way to prepare them to make them part of a nice meal. I often use this recipe originally written for green beans (or I use both beans and peas, blanching them separately). This is a recipe guests always request.
Makes 6 servings
Active time: 20 min Start to finish: 20 min
- 1-1/2 lb snap peas or green beans, trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Cook beans in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until crisp-tender, approximately 2 minutes for snap peas and 3 to 5 minutes for green beans (taste every 30 seconds if you'd like to avoid overcooking). Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. When beans are cool, drain and pat dry.
Whisk together oils, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until combined well, then add beans and sesame seeds and toss to coat.
Jackie Starr is a LexFarm founding member who has been a flexitarian home cook for 25 years. Her recipe selections and adaptations are informed by experiences living abroad, by having spent many years in the Bay Area and Seattle, and by a delight in local, seasonal bounty.
More Ideas for Peas
PIZZA: Jackie's husband has had a now slightly corny-looking James McNair pizza cookbook from the 80's that has a primavera pizza recipe with broccoli, asparagus, summer squash, and shelled English peas. This is not your vegetarian pizza from the corner pizza place…. It makes a special meal with locally harvested produce prepared the right way. At this time of year you could simply omit the summer squash and broccoli, increasing the amounts of currently harvested vegetables. Thinly sliced steamed or blanched turnips might make a nice replacement for the broccoli, and sun-dried tomatoes (a year-round pantry item) would be fine in place of fresh cherry tomatoes.
CURRY: Winter vegetable curry. This is an incredible curry! It is a bit of work, however, some parts can be done ahead (such as toasting and grinding the spices; cooking the tomato and ginger; even doing the whole recipe other than the steamed or blanched vegetable additions at the end). It also makes a huge amount and is wonderful upon reheating. Though it is called winter curry, you could easily substitute asparagus and peas for the broccoli and fennel. Simply blanch the asparagus and peas (separately) before adding to the curry towards the end of cooking in place of broccoli.
Make pasta with béchamel and peas. Add peas to the boiling pasta for the last 2 minutes of cooking, drain, then toss everything with béchamel sauce and season to taste. Top with parmesan if desired. Here is a béchamel recipe – it can be halved, and the vegan versions freeze beautifully (made with almond milk and earth balance).
Other possible additions:
- Sautéed, roasted, or caramelized onions
- Sautéed garlic (can cook with the butter in making béchamel)
- Ham, prosciutto, or bacon (can fry or blanch)
- Mushrooms, sauteed or smoked mushrooms
- Fresh herbs (e.g. thyme or mint)
For another variation, use "cashew cream" for the béchamel.
You could use peas along with other spring vegetables in Pappardelle with Spring Vegetables and Lemon Cream.
SALAD: Let peas be the star of a salad, simply dressed with lemon vinaigrette and topped with shaved Parmesan or with cucumber or with mint and coconut dressing.
Check out these creative uses for peas, including pesto and a pair of desserts.