Peas are among the trickiest vegetables to cook, so I often don’t bother. As a kid, I’d spend hours in my grandmother’s garden, zipping open the pea jackets with my thumb so they’d plink into a metal bowl. Fewer than half ever made it to her stove. These days, a basket of freshly picked sugar snaps rivals corn chips any day.
When it comes to cooking, peas require just a lick of heat to perfect their delicate textures and sweet pea flavors. Skip the elaborate instructions for boiling, then shocking, peas in an ice bath. Instead, blanching them in a skillet with just a little water yields the same result. The method works with all pea varieties — sugar snap, snow peas and shelled garden peas. Once cooked, they’re ready to toss with butter and chopped mint, tangle with pasta and cheese, or buzz them into purée, or chill them for a salad, to pile on bruschetta, or mash into salsa.
Local peas are hitting their prime at our farmers markets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find pea shoots there, too.
With sugar snaps and garden peas, seek out firm, plump pods. For snow peas, you want flat and crisp-looking shells. Don’t shell garden peas until right before using. Add pea vines to stir-fries, sautés and soups right before serving, plus they make a beautiful garnish. As soon as you’re home, store peas in plastic bags in the refrigerator and enjoy them as soon as you can; wait to shell garden peas until ready to cook.
Cooking times for peas vary with the variety, just watch closely, because they are done in a wink. I cook snow, sugar snap and garden peas separately, then serve them on the same plate. To cook, just drop them into a pan with about ¼-inch of boiling water and wait until they turn bright green, about 10 to 15 seconds, drain and serve warm or chill under cold running water. Here are a few perfect pairings.
• Stir cooked peas into risotto just before serving with grated Parmesan cheese.
• Fold cooked peas into an omelet with fresh chopped mint and mascarpone or cream cheese.
• Smash cooked garden peas with a little olive oil, cilantro, chopped jalapeño pepper and lime for a pretty salsa or dip.
• Tangle cooked peas with fettuccine, cream, lemon juice, cracked pepper and toasted almonds.
• Toss cooked peas with sliced radishes, minced chives, torn fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Perfect Peas on Rye Toast
Makes 12 toasts
Note: Spring’s sweet garden peas, sugar snap peas and pea shoots, tossed with a light lemon vinaigrette and mint, are fresh as a new summer’s day. We added sliced white radish for a little heat and more crunch. Served on toasted rye bread spread with tangy goat cheese, this makes a light lunch or casual party appetizer. From Beth Dooley.
• 12 slices rye bread
• 1 garlic clove, cut in half
• 6 oz. fresh chèvre
• 1/2 c. sliced snow or snap peas
• 1/2 c. shelled garden peas
• 1/2 c. sliced radish
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Pea vines, for garnish
• Fresh chopped mint, for garnish
Grill or toast the rye bread and rub with the garlic cloves. Spread evenly with the fresh chèvre.
Fill a skillet with about 1/4-inch water and bring to a boil. Cook the snow or snap peas, shaking the pan, until they’re bright green, then drain in a colander and run under cold water. Repeat with the garden peas. Pat the peas dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel.
Place the peas and radish slices into a medium bowl and toss with the olive oil, then the lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pile the peas onto the rye toasts and garnish with the pea vines and fresh mint.
Nutrition information per each of 12:
Fat 6 g
Sodium 260 mg
Carbohydrates 17 g
Saturated fat 3 g
Total sugars 2 g
Protein 6 g
Cholesterol 5 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, ½ medium-fat protein, ½ fat.