Native to southwest Asia, peas were first gathered wild in the spring when fresh and tender, as well as later in the year once they had dried on the vine. In much the same way today, we eat plump, round garden peas both dried in soups and stews, and fresh in preparations from salads to pastas. Early spring garden peas are sweetest just-picked. These peas are hulled from their fibrous shells before eating. Snap peas and snow peas, which comprise a category called "sugar peas," are eaten shell and all. Snap peas come in crisp, curved pods that are low in fiber and high in natural sugars. Snow peas' flat, tender pods are harvested before the peas within have had time to mature. Though both varieties can eaten raw, cooking them briefly brings out their sweetness. Other parts of the pea plant are edible, too. The young vines of pea plants, called pea greens or pea shoots, have a sweet, grassy flavor that makes them terrific as a garnish. Pea sprouts (shown), the first shoots sent out by pea seeds, add vegetal crunch to sandwiches and salads.
Snap the stem end, then pull along the length of the pod to open the seam, remove the peas, and discard the pod. Snow peas and sugar snap peas can be eaten raw, shells and all. Fresh shelled peas only need to be cooked briefly—just 1–2 minutes.
Once picked, peas’ high sugar content starts to decline, causing them to lose much of their sweetness and become starchy and dull, so it’s best to eat them within a couple of days of purchase. In the meantime, store pods and shoots separately in a perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer.
Rice and Peas
SERVES 4 – 6
This Venetian favorite may look like a risotto, but it is considered a soup, so there should be just enough liquid to require a spoon.
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 lbs. fresh peas, shelled to yield 3 cups
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup Chicken Stock
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Grated parmigiano-reggiano
1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add peas and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
2. Add chicken stock and 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Stir in rice and parsley, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is al dente and peas are very soft, about 20 minutes.
3. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately before rice absorbs liquid. Top with grated parmigiano-reggiano, if you like.
Sweet Pea Gnocchi
Airy potato pillows get an infusion of summery color and flavor with the addition of sweet peas and fresh mint before being coated in a simple lemon and herb cream sauce. If you're pressed for time, baking the potatoes and making the pea puree can be done a day in advance. Alternately, the dough can be made and shaped into gnocchi, then frozen on a rimmed baking sheet and stored in the freezer—just defrost and cook. This recipe was developed for us by Judy Haubert.
- 2½ lbs. russet potatoes (about 4)
- 1 (10 oz.) bag frozen peas
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 6 scallions, divided
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced
- 2 eggs
- 2½ tsp. salt, divided, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
- 1 cup white rice flour, plus more for dusting
- ¾ cup potato starch
- ⅓ cup corn starch
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon
1. Heat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil potatoes, prick several times with a fork and sprinkle with salt. Place on lined baking sheet and bake until tender, 1 hour. Meanwhile, place peas in small saucepan with 1½ cups water to cover. Slice 4 scallions into 1-inch segments and add to peas. Finely chop remaining scallions and set aside. Bring peas to a simmer over medium-high heat, remove from heat and drain, reserving ¼ cup water. Place pea mixture in blender base with garlic, mint, 1 Tbs. lemon zest, ½ tsp. salt, and reserved cooking water. Puree until smooth.
2. Combine rice flour, potato starch and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Let potatoes cool slightly, peel and rice into a large bowl. Stir in 1 cup of pea mixture, eggs, and 2 tsp. salt. Mix in flour until fully incorporated and divide dough into eighths.
3. Lightly dust a clean work surface with rice flour; line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and dust with additional rice flour. Working with one section of dough at a time, keep the others tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to avoid drying out. Roll each segment of dough into a log 10 inches long by 1 inch wide. Cut the log into 1"x1" segments and roll each into a 3"x½" rope. Cut each rope into 1"x½" gnocchi and place on prepared tray. Rest uncovered at room temperature while preparing the remaining gnocchi, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place cream in a large skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in reserved scallion and chopped tarragon, and season with lemon juice, salt and white pepper to taste.Add gnocchi to boiling water in two batches and cook 1½ to 2 minutes, until gnocchi float on surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss with tarragon cream. Garnish with reserved lemon zest and serve.