I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about peas. For most of the year, they are an ever-present vegetable that lives in the freezer. I regularly add a handful to soups and salads (rinse them under warm water to quickly defrost them) and appreciate them for how little they demand of me. However, when spring arrives and peas are in season, I feel it necessary to celebrate the joy that is the green pea.
When it comes to spring peas, you want to stick to the simplest of preparations that allow the essential pea-ness to shine. The youngest ones can be eaten raw, right off the vine (and when I was younger and had regular access to my parents’ vegetable garden, I did a lot of that). The slightly more mature peas should be shelled, blanched in salted water and then tossed with butter. Add a few sprigs of torn mint if you’re feeling ambitious.
Then there are the times when you want to feature the sweet pop of the peas with a little more nuance and elegance. That’s where these recipes come in.
When the peas first begin to arrive in farmers’ markets, I like to simmer them in cream that I’ve infused with dill. They are rich, fragrant and go well with slices of ham. The leftovers are great tossed with a small cut of pasta, as well.
One of my favorite lunchtime dishes is a simple fresh pea soup. You sauté green onions in butter, add peas and some chopped cilantro leaves and then cover everything with water, chicken stock or pea pod broth that you’ve made by simmering the empty pods in a pot of water until they’re limp and the water is vividly green. Once the peas are cooked through, you puree it until smooth. Top it with some crumbled feta and eat it with toast.
Finally, there’s pea and leek risotto. If I could only eat one dish until the end of time, it would be this risotto. The peas are such a nice textural surprise in the creamy rice. And if you’ve been lead to believe that making risotto is hard, just try this recipe. I think you’ll find that it’s actually incredibly simple.
Note: Though this piece is all about celebrating fresh peas, it should be noted that all three of these recipes can all also be made with frozen peas (and there’s no shame in doing just that). No need to blanch the frozen ones before using, just rinse them briefly with warm water to defrost.
Green Peas in Dilled Cream
- 1 cup light cream
- 2 fresh dill fronds
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
- 3 cups peas, blanched
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pour cream into a small saucepan and add the dill. Place over medium heat and cook until the cream just begins to steam and has a few tiny bubbles around the edges (do not boil the cream). Once it reaches that stage, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it the dill steep in the cream for 30-45 minutes.
Place a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Once the oil shimmers, add the shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas and pour the cream over top, straining out the dill as you pour.
Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cream has reduced and the peas are entirely warmed through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
Spring Pea Soup with Feta Crumbles and Cilantro
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4-5 green onions, chopped
- 3 cups peas
- 2 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves, plus more for garnishing
- 2½ cups pea pod broth, chicken stock, or water
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 ounces feta, crumbled
Place a soup pot over medium heat and add butter. Once it has melted, add the green onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, until they are fragrant and beginning to brown.
Add peas, cilantro leaves, and whichever liquid you’re using. Cover and cook at a simmer for 8-10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle into small bowls and garnish with feta crumbles and cilantro leaves.
Serves 4-6 as a starter.
Pea and Leek Risotto with Mint
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
- 2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 cups blanched peas
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Bring stock to simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to very low and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add rice and stir until the grains begins to toast ever so slightly.
Add wine and stir constantly while it absorbs. Add approximately ½ cup of warm stock to rice and stir. When that ladleful appears to be absorbed, add another ½ cup. Repeat this process of adding stock and stirring until most or all of the stock has been incorporated and the rice is tender and creamy. This should take between 25 and 30 minutes.
Add the peas, Parmesan cheese, and chopped mint and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.