I think that I shall never see
A vegetable as perfect as a pea
It’s not often that I resort to poetry. Well, I guess my feeble attempts are more rhyme, but whatever the case, I stand by my plagiaristic attempts at verse. English peas really are the perfect vegetable. You can eat them in pasta dishes, soups, casseroles, or in rice. They’re great raw or cooked. Pureed is nice as well. And then there are always dried peas for split pea soup. They are also highly nutritious. And oh, did I mention they’re delicious as well?
English peas shouldn’t be confused with snow peas or sugar snap peas. Unlike those varieties, you cannot eat the pod of the English pea. Only the actual pea is edible. Most people purchase their shelled peas in plastic bags from the freezer section of the grocery store. When not being used as malleable ice packs for bum knees and bumps on the head, freezer section bags offer a pretty decent cache of peas. Manufacturers shell the vegetables at the height of the season and then immediately freeze them, so you can usually be assured that those frozen green dots will be sweet. As for canned peas, I won’t even raise the topic except to say they are mushy and should be avoided at all costs unless you need something green in your earthquake supply bin.
But why use frozen peas now, when they’re available fresh and ready to be shelled? There’s a reason the term “sweet pea” is so pervasive. Peas just picked have a bright sweet flavor that is just not available in the freezer section. When newly picked, peas have a lush verdant flavor that just screams SPRING.
Don’t be put off by the idea of shelling your peas. First of all, most farmers’ markets offer a stand with already-shelled peas for lazy customers (including me). But if you can only find peas in the pod, rest assured that it takes less than five minutes to shell a batch. And, if you have kids, they will most likely think that shelling peas is fun, so you can pawn off the job while also getting them excited to eat the peas later (and they may even steal a few morsels while they labor away).
There are a lot of great recipes for peas, but one of my favorites is Fresh Spring Pea Soup. Cooked with caramelized onions, plus a hint of basil and mint, the peas sweet earthy flavors really burst through; plus the soup’s vivid green color is quite pretty.
So start shelling and take advantage of one of spring’s most memorable treats.
Fresh Spring Pea Soup
Makes: 2 large or 4 small servings
3 cups shelled English peas
1 cup sliced cipollini or spring onions
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1 Tbsp chopped basil
1 Tbsp chopped mint
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a soup pot on a medium flame.
2. When pan is hot, add olive oil and onions. Lower heat and cook for about five minutes or until the onions start to soften and become golden in color.
3. Stir in your shelled peas and add a dash of salt. Cook uncovered for about five minutes, stirring every so often.
4. Add the broth and cook until everything is heated through. Taste the peas to see if they’re done. Like pasta, they should be al dente: not mushy but cooked through.
5. Add the basil and mint and then puree everything using either a hand or stand blender. If using a stand blender, be sure to allow an air hole at the top or else the steam my cause the soup to shoot through the top.
6. Return the soup to the pot, adding the crème fraiche or sour cream along with some salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve immediately with croutons or good bread.