Peas have a bad reputation.
Lots of people have only eaten the soft ones that mash easily under a fork and have a dull green color and flavor. Anyone growing up in a family where vegetables most often came out of cans — or the cook believed they needed to be cooked to death — have been put off by peas.
This taste and texture combo can set anyone off of peas for a lifetime. And, if you wonder why they taste so bad from a can, there’s a simple answer: The minute you pick peas (snap, sugar or shelling), they start to lose their sweetness and become starchy and flavorless.
So, this is the time of year to put your aversion aside — spring is when peas are at their best. You really need to give peas a chance. (I had to say it.)
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Best advice to begin the relationship anew? Look in the produce section for fresh peas that are small, bright green and in pods that are green and firm.
Pop open a pod and sample a pea. (Don’t let the produce guy see you.) It should be sweet and snap when you eat it. You should want to eat more just like they are.
I admit to burying my peas under mashed potatoes as a child as a way to try and get them down. To this day I am wary of peas and only eat them when I can see their size and brightness — and know they’re fresh or well-prepared.
There is a short window for fresh peas, unless you grow them, so take advantage of what you find in the stores.
Frozen peas are, while not perfect, a much better option than canned. (Freezing your own peas is an excellent idea.)
Aside from their sweet flavor, you should be enticed by the fact that they take only a few minutes to cook, particularly when they’re very fresh and young. And that is the lesson to learn here about their preparation: To maintain sweetness and a bright-green color, you need to cook them as little as possible, just enough to make them tender.
What’s more, peas lend themselves to almost any cooking method, from boiling and steaming to sautéing, stir-frying, and quick-braising, says Annie Wayte of Fine Cooking.com.
You can make them the star of a side dish, purée them into a soup, add them to a stew, or briefly blanch them and toss them in risottos or pastas, she says. And when they’re small and tender, they’re also great raw in salads.
Peas’ mild sweetness pairs well with many different flavors. Cured meats like bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, smoked ham and chorizo work wonderfully with peas, as their pronounced saltiness complements peas’ gentle flavor, Wayte says. Fresh mint is also a classic flavor partner, bringing peas to life in an instant. But Wayte also likes pairing peas with other fresh spring herbs, such as basil, chervil, chives, dill and tarragon.
Peas are a natural with onions, scallions and other alliums, and they pair well with spring vegetables like asparagus, new potatoes, carrots and fava beans.
Nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger says this soup can be refrigerated (without the yogurt) for up 4 days. If you want to serve the soup chilled, it needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours.
Krieger’s most recent cookbook is “Weeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.
Herbed Green Pea Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more as needed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh shelled peas or 10 ounces frozen/defrosted green peas
2 tablespoons packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons packed fresh tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt, for garnish
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion; cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the broth, salt and pepper; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.
Add the peas; cook fresh ones for 2 to 5 minutes, until they are tender; if you’re using frozen peas, cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are just warmed through. Remove from the heat; cool for 15 minutes, then stir in the parsley, the tablespoon of chives and the tarragon.
Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree the soup until smooth. If serving hot, reheat just until warmed through; if serving cold, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 4 days. Taste, and add salt as needed.
To serve, divide the soup among individual bowls; top each portion a swirl of yogurt and chopped chives.
Makes about 5 cups or 4 servings, each with 110 calories, 5 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat, 340 mg sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams sugar.
Taste as you go along, cookbook author Kate Satterfield writes: “Think about the advantage you have that you can actually taste vegetables when they are raw. You can’t do that with your chicken dish from start to finish, can you?” His new cookbook is “Root to Leaf,” just published by HarperWave.
Creamed Rice With Peas and Ham
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup long-grain rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade, or low-sodium, heated
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, heated
1/4 cup country ham or prosciutto, finely chopped
1 cup shelled English peas, or thawed frozen peas
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
Parmesan, for garnish
1. Put butter in a wide saucepan or Dutch oven set over medium heat and cook until the butter foams. Add rice and stir continuously until the grains turn opaque, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Add white wine and stir until the rice absorbs the liquid. Add 1/4 of a cup water, stirring until the rice absorbs it. Repeat 3 times, until the rice has absorbed a total of 1 cup of water.
3. Slowly add 1/2 cup of hot stock, stirring until the rice absorbs it. Then add 1/2 cup of cream, again stirring until the rice absorbs it. Repeat until all the stock and cream is absorbed and the rice is tender and creamy, about 40 minutes. Stir in the ham and peas. Taste and salt if needed. Shower with grated Parmesan and serve hot. Yield: 4 servings.
PERFECT PEAS & SHRIMP
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh, shelled peas
1 clove garlic, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound fettuccine, cooked
1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
2 tablespoons (mixed) chopped chives, mint and basil
1. Heat oil in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, peas and garlic. Cook, stirring, until shrimp are curled and pink, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Reduce heat to low. Add cooked pasta and toss. Add creme fraiche and toss.
3. Scoop pasta onto plates. Shower with herbs. Enjoy. Serves 4.
Joe Gray of the Chicago Tribune adapted this recipe from “Franny’s Simple Seasonal Italian” by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens and Melissa Clark.
SUGAR SNAP PEAS WITH RICOTTA, MINT AND LEMON
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups sugar snap peas (about 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley,
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Drain: Place ricotta in a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a clean dish towel; set over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. The ricotta will lose much of its water content and thicken.
Mix: Whisk the drained ricotta in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil until smooth. Whisk in salt and pepper to taste. Continue to whisk until the ricotta is fluffy and creamy.
Blanch: Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water, and salt it generously. Blanch peas in the boiling water until bright green, 30-40 seconds. Drain; immediately transfer peas to the ice bath. Let stand until chilled. Drain the peas; spread them on a clean dish towel to dry.
Toss: Combine the peas in a bowl with green onions, parsley, chopped mint, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve: Smear 2 tablespoons ricotta on each of four plates. Mound 1/2 cup of the peas on each plate. Drizzle with more olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Makes 4 servings.
This salad is best with fresh, young peas tender enough to be eaten barely blanched or even raw.
Pea, Butter Lettuce & Herb Salad
1 cup fresh shelled peas (about 1 pound unshelled) or frozen peas
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small head butter lettuce, washed and dried, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
6 medium radishes, thinly sliced
4 scallions (white and light-green parts), thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh chervil leaves
2 tablespoons very coarsely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
3 ounces ricotta salata, shaved thinly with a vegetable peeler (optional)*
If using fresh peas, sample them. If they are young, sweet and tender, keep them raw. If they are older and a bit tough, blanch them in a small pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer to cool.
If using frozen peas, thaw them by leaving them at room temperature or by running them under warm water.
In a small bowl, whisk the oil with the lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste.
Just before serving, toss the peas in a small bowl with 1 tablespoons of the dressing. Toss the butter lettuce, radishes, scallions, and herbs in a large bowl with just enough of the remaining dressing to lightly coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange the salad on individual serving plates and top with the peas and the ricotta salata if using.
Serves four, each with 190 calories, 15 grams fat, 7 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 360 mg sodium, 10 mg sodium, 3 grams fiber.
*Ricotta salata is a drier, saltier type of ricotta. It will stand up to being crumbled or sliced.