22 May 2011

Mushy and delicious

Something strange has happened.

Yesterday, I went to the market to buy peas, greens, and strawberries. I also a bought cherries. Cherries! Generally my signal that summer has begun, this year they've appeared, plump, juicy, and flavorful, mid-May. While I'm not sure where they came from, and they're a welcome treat after a difficult past month or so.

I will make no complaints, just buy as many as I can afford. I may preserve a few jars, I may make a pie, I'm definitely making a super-secret something to show you in a week or so—but I may also just sit on the patio with a bowl in my lap, eating cherries and soaking up the sun.

One of my favorite parts of spring is not waiting for the stone fruit that will arrive shortly, but enjoying the greens vegetables that are at their best early in the year. Fava Beans, Sugar Snap Peas, Shelling Peas, and the Green Beans that will come into their prime in the following weeks—all of them call my name.

green pea crostini

Fave with Bacon is one of my favorites, and while it deserves a recipe (that it's not getting, at least not today), it doesn't really need one: fry some lardons until cripy, drain, and cook some onions and garlic in the bacon fat; add shelled & peeled fave, salt & pepper, and some fresh herbs and cook three or four minutes; toss in the bacon and devour.

Sugar snap peas are a constant disappointment for me; one that stems back to childhood summers at my grandparents house. After eating firm, shiny, perfectly-sweet peas straight off the vine, farmer's market peas just won't cut it. Like corn, peas begin turning their sugars into starch the moment they're picked, and every hour—every minute, it seems—makes the difference between delicious and ho-hum. While I usually break down and buy them once or twice each spring (I'm a particular fan of this Bon Appétit recipe), more often than not I follow their purchase up with a return to long-range garden planning.

English peas (also called shelling peas), on the other hand, are a different story. They're prone to the same sugar-to-starch phenomenon as sugar snaps, but they also have an easy solution. Yes, you can certainly grow your own and toss them on the heat as soon as they come off the vine, but you can also eschew the common just-cook-peas-until-they're warm advice. Anyway, if Francis Lam tells me to do something, I do it.

green pea purée

The basic idea is this: when you get peas, embrace their true nature as beans and cook the heck out of them. When they're tender and creamy, I like to roughly mash them, though it's certainly not a requirement. Smear them on crostini, toasted in an oven with just a drizzle of olive oil, and serve with a simple green salad and shallot vinaigrette, and you have a perfect spring dinner.

Mashy-Mushy Green Pea Crostini

2 T olive oil
½ small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 kilogram/2 pounds unshelled English Peas (about 500g/1 pound shelled)
1-2 cups mild stock (preferably vegetable, but a poultry stock will work as well)
salt and pepper
decently-large sprig fresh thyme
Good baguette or Italian bread for crostini
Additional olive oil for crostini

Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat in a medium pan. Add the onions and garlic and cook briefly, until very aromatic; add the peas. Mix well and cook 1-2 minutes, until the peas are heated and well coated. Add 1 cup stock and some salt & pepper, bring to boil, and simmer, partially covered. Stir occasionally, adding more stock if the mixture becomes dry.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into thin diagonal slices, drizzle on both sides with olive oil, and toast until golden brown under the broiler or in a very hot oven. Flip and toast the other side; set aside.

When the peas are very tender and beginning to turn "pea-green", 20-30 minutes, remove from heat and mash roughly. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If the mixture is very thick, add more stock by the tablespoon until it reaches desired consistency.

Serve with crostini and salad.

Serves 4 with a salad as a light meal, 6-8 as an appetizer


  1. Mmmm so nice and green! I bet they taste as bright as they look.
    (In your recipe, you have 1 kilo = 1/2 lb, but 1 kilo is actually two pounds, and 500 grams is one pound)

  2. Nicole - ack! Thanks for noticing that - I don't know what possessed me to write 1 kilo = 1/2 lb, but it's fixed now :)

  3. I just went to the weekly farmer's market in my area this morning, and was hoping so badly that they would have fresh peas, but no luck. I'll save this recipe in case they come around next week though!

  4. I listened to the podcast with Francis Lam talking about mushy peas and was intrigued and then completely forgot about it. I may just have to try cooking the heck out of them, now.