Pass the Peas, Please
BY BARBARA KOBSAR
It’s a riotous sea of green out there as peas flood the markets in spring. Farmers’ markets are prime spots to find the freshest peas—from the soft green tender pea shoots with blossoms attached, to plump, brilliant-green sugar snaps and their flat cousins, the snow peas.
There’s a reason the best peas present themselves in the garden or at the farmers’ markets during spring. Most varieties thrive in the cooler weather, higher humidity, and bright sun of springtime, but after the ground heats up, the vines lose their vim and vigor. Gardeners and farmers alike take pride in a trellis or fence covered with eye-catching, climbing pea vines laden with pods. Training the vines allows the pods to hang straight down so they’ll be nicely shaped and easier to pick.
Pea shoots arrive first, direct from field to market. The fleeting season leaves no time to settle for second best. Careful scrutiny to find new growth picked from the tips of the pea plant as it matures is the guarantee for a tender, sweet delicacy. Pea shoots are served raw in salads or pastas, and cooked in stir-fries. For a quick sauté rinse the pea shoots and place them still damp in a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, just until wilted. Finish with a splash of sesame oil and a sprinkle of salt and serve immediately. Delicious!
If you’re out in the garden, handfuls of edible pod peas are just too good to pass by. Edible pod peas are just that—the pod and pea are tender enough to eat whole. The snow pea (aka Chinese pea pod or sugar pea) is one type of edible pod pea with tiny flat seeds inside a flat 3- to 4-inch pod. When left to linger on the vines too long the pods turn tough but the peas are edible—albeit a little starchy tasting. Fresh, succulent snow peas are indispensable in Chinese cooking, but just as impressive on the snack tray or added raw to salads or pastas.
Sugar snap peas seem to outshine all others in the edible pod department. This relatively new member of the pea family—a cross between a garden pea and a snow pea—boasts thick, crunchy pod walls and full, round tender peas. Sugar snap peas stand well on their own after a quick sauté with a little butter, ginger, and soy sauce. A raw vegetable platter wouldn’t be the same without some sugar snaps to scoop up the dip.
Preparing edible pod peas is a snap. Snap off the tips of the pods using your fingers or a paring knife and pull downward to remove the stringy edge.
Freezing these nutrient-rich morsels (high protein, high fiber, high vitamin C) is easy, and frozen edible-pod peas keep for up to 6 months. Blanch prepared pods in boiling water for 1 minute—no longer. Plunge into cold water, drain, and freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet. Pack frozen pods in freezer bags and seal.
The common garden pea that must be shelled before it’s eaten is often referred to as the English or green pea. These are the peas you’ll find canned, and they hold the distinction of being one of the first vegetables to be canned when the canning process was developed in the late 19th century. The Campbell Soup Company began canning peas in 1870, and their canned peas haven’t changed much since—to the aficionado of the dull olive-colored, chlorophyll-depleted canned pea, the distinctive canned flavor is part of the appeal. When frozen vegetables hit the scene in the 1920s and ’30s, peas received a huge benefit. Freezing immediately after harvest (before the sugars turn to starch) leaves peas bright green and fresh tasting.
Fresh green peas come to market ripe and ready. The trick is to recognize and choose the cream of the crop. Pods definitely need to be glossy, bright green, and smooth-skinned. Any pods bulging with oversized peas are past the fresh-eating stage, but salvageable for drying. A quick check of the seam on the sides of the pods also helps determine a just-ripe pea—the seam on ripe pods changes from convex to concave in shape.
Shelling green peas is admittedly labor intensive, but good for the soul. Time to sit back, take life easy, and pop open pods to fill the pea pot. Shell just before using. Pop open at the seam opposite the blossom end and gently nudge the peas out of the pod with your finger. (The pods are great for making vegetable stock—freeze them for later use.)
An easy rule of thumb to follow: 2 pounds of unshelled peas yield about 1 pound shelled peas, and 1 pound of shelled peas serves four.
To cook, peas need only a brief simmer (2 to 3 minutes) in a small amount of water. If storage is necessary place whole green pea pods in a plastic bag and refrigerate for two or three days before preparing or freezing the peas.
Enjoy and see you at the farmers’ markets. •
Barbara Kobsar has been working with local farmers’ markets and writing about seasonal produce for 20 years. She hopes to encourage healthy, delicious eating while supporting sustainable agriculture. She writes for several publications and has authored two cookbooks that focus on traditional home cooking. When not roaming the farmers’ market aisles, she is behind her market stand selling her Cottage Kitchen preserves, which she makes from fresh farmers’ market produce.
Note: Mudd’s, known as San Ramon’s first “farm-to-table restaurant,” closed in 2008.
With a 9-acre organic garden right outside its back door, Mudd’s Restaurant is a little piece of perfection for anyone who appreciates fresh, local food. For Mudd’s chef Robert Eustaquio, who is passionate about the philosophies of local eating, the garden is an amazing source of in-season produce and inspiration. Owned by the city of San Ramon and tended by its Public Works division, the organic garden is planted and maintained by very capable hands. In addition to supplying just-picked produce to the chef, the garden is open to anyone who wants to meander along the pathways, as well as for school tours, demonstrations, and a summer day camp.
RECIPES FROM MUDD’S RESTAURANT
By Executive Chef Robert M. Eustaquio
Chef Robert M. Eustaquio has held leadership positions in several prestigious Northern California kitchens. At the renowned Fish in Sausalito, he became highly conversant with the organic and sustainable food movement, developing a commitment to cooking with only the freshest, locally procured products. This commitment led him to Mudd’s where he makes ample use of herbs and produce from the restaurant’s garden, now property of the city of San Ramon.
Spring Rolls with Miso Seared Beef and Pea Shoots
- 1 tablespoon red miso
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Fresh ginger root, grated to make about 2 tablespoons
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons tamari (wheat free soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon mirin
- 6 ounces beef filet or flat iron steak
- Peanut or canola oil
- ¼ pound pea shoots
- Shiso leaves
- Fresh cilantro
- 1 carrot, julienned or shredded
- 1 package spring roll or rice paper wrappers
Blend the miso, sugar, ginger, sesame oil, tamari, and mirin and pour over the beef. Marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan and then sear the meat, till rare. Remove from heat and let rest before slicing thinly. Sauté the pea shoots lightly, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside to cool.
Soak the spring roll wrappers one at a time in water as you are ready to make each roll. Place the softened wrapper on a plate and lay pieces of beef, shizo leaves, cilantro leaves, carrot, and a handful of pea shoots over it. Roll carefully and allow to sit under a damp towel in the refrigerator until you have completed all the rolls. Cut and serve. You can make a nice dipping sauce using similar ingredients to the marinade, or simple serve with soy sauce.
Pea Shoots Salad with Hobb’s Speck Prosciutto, Ricotta Salata, Dates, and Tarragon Dressing
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup tarragon vinegar
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- ¼ cup champagne vinegar
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
- Sugar, salt, white pepper to taste
- ¼ pound pea shoots
- 12 paper thin slices of Hobb’s speck
- 12 dates, pits removed and cut in quarters
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Ricotta salata
Place 4 salad plates in refrigerator to chill.
Place shallot, garlic and both vinegars in a saucepan (not aluminum). Simmer until reduced by half. Cool and then whisk together with the mayonnaise, buttermilk, crème fraîche, and tarragon. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Wash and spin the pea shoots. Bring the plates from the cooler and arrange three slices of speck on each plate along with some dates and snipped chives. Drizzle with tarragon dressing. Toss the pea shoots with some extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice and then place a large handful of shoots on each plate. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some ribbons of ricotta salata over each salad and serve.