By Debra Knapke
“If you don’t like peas, it is probably because you have not had them fresh. It is the difference between reading a great book and reading the summary on the back” ― Lemony Snicket, Shouldn’t You Be in School?
My childhood perception of peas was based on peas out of a can: mushy, tasteless, army-green-colored excuse for food. My dad had a garden, but it was filled with tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. I’m betting peas were absent because they needed to be started early, and that just didn’t fit into my dad’s schedule.
In college I helped shuck peas and discovered their true flavor and texture. What a revelation.
I don’t plant peas every year, but when it fits in my schedule, peas are my food-harbingers of spring and early summer harvests. Their only competitor is asparagus, but that is a post for another day.
When do you plant peas? The rule of thumb is to plant them as early as you can work the soil starting in mid-March; St. Patrick’s Day is often given as a target date. My target range is closer to April 5th to April 15th which is when I can get into the garden. Right now my peas are about one to two inches tall.
I am impatient and don’t usually plant peas that need to mature and be shucked. I gravitate towards the snow and snap pea cultivars which are delicious in their raw state or when lightly sautéed or stir-fried. I confess to using frozen peas in recipes that call for the “seed” (pea) instead of the “fruit” (pea-pod). At a restaurant I had an elegant appetizer that consisted of a pea and mint pesto spread over baked ricotta. I have yet to replicate it; maybe this year.
Here is a simple side dish for freshly harvested snow or snap pea pods (all amounts are determined by what is available from your garden):
Pasta with Sautéed Peapods and Mint Pesto – for two
½ to ¾ c spearmint leaves and tender upper stems, rinsed and patted dry
3-4 TBS olive oil
1 clove garlic
In a food processor, combine the above ingredients.
3-4 cups peapods, rinsed and drained
1 TBS olive oil
Sauté the peapods in the olive oil until they are bright green and tender-crisp.
Toss the pesto and peapods with six to eight ounces of your favorite pasta. Garnish with toasted pine nuts or pistachios. You may wish to dress with one tablespoon of high quality olive oil. A fantastic olive oil – available online – is Lucero Meyer Lemon infused olive oil.