In Season: Peas
On the meditative properties of pea podding I could write a pamphlet. Instead, I wrote this short post, which is much shorter than a pamphlet, and thank goodness for that.
Perhaps you share in this sentiment: perhaps the sight of a bag of peas in their pod gets you every time, too. It’s a form of seduction that transcends the five senses, and that breaches into the emotional. It’s their promise of peacefulness I deeply cherish. As I picture the tender spheres rubbing shoulders inside their green zip coats, all I can think of is the silence that will follow – the ritual, and the patience it summons.
I love podding peas while sitting outside in the warm May air, with nothing around but the chirping of the birds and the sound of my thoughts, and the tap, tap tap of the spheres falling into the bowl. I enjoy the surprise of a full, perfectly formed line of peas, as crowded as sardines in a tin, and sadden at the sight of an empty pod. More than anything, though, I love seeing the bowl full at the end of the process, despite my copious snacking; and imagining all the good things that are going to come out of it.
In the ream of fresh peas, small, young and tender is best, for that’s when sweetness and juice are at their peak. As time passes, the peas become bitter and floury, and require longer sessions on the stove and more seasoning to conceal their imperfections.
How do I eat peas? In a Venetian rice soup called risi e bisi. As a snack alongside pecorino. In a spring minestrone packed with fresh herbs and other green things (broad beans, spring onions, asparagus and herbs). Or in a warm salad with garlic, mint and torn mozzarella.
Risi e Bisi
A Venetian classic for springtime, made with the very first peas of the season and using both shells and fruits, risi e bisi is a delicately-flavoured rice soup that’s so thick you can eat it with a fork. It resembles risotto in look and feel, but it remains a bit more brothy, and a bit less rich. Still, it is lovely.
1 Kg fresh peas in the pod
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
30 g flat pancetta (optional)
1/2 golden onion, peeled and finely chopped
Small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
300 g risotto rice (Vialone Nano or Arborio)
1.5 L / 6 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
50 g freshly grated Grana Padano
Shell the peas, reserving the pods. Place the peas in a small saucepan with two tablespoons of stock and simmer over a low heat until bright green, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Wash the pods and place them in a large pot together with the rest of the stock. Bring everything to the boil and keep hot over a low heat.
Mince the pancetta, if using. Incorporate the finely chopped parsley and onion and carry on chopping until you have a fine mixture.
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottom pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta, onion and parsley and fry gently until the onion looks soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat in fat. Toast it for a couple of minutes, stirring all the while, then cover with the hot stock strained from the pea pods.
Cook the rice for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the reserved peas and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid (about 15 minutes). If the soup is too dense, add a few spoonfuls of hot water to loosen it up. Finish with a generous dusting of grated cheese and serve right away.
Fresh Peas with Buffalo Mozzarella, Garlic and Mint
In this lovely spring salad, peas are braised ever so briefly and then, while still hot, plunged in a garlicky, minty, oily bath. Roughly-torn buffalo mozzarella complements the dish, giving it sweetness, substance and the ability to stand alone. I often make this as a one-dish meal to go with some bread – you will need quite a bit to mop up the oil. For something more substantial, pair it to grilled skirt steak, or serve it as part of a series of sharing dishes.
1 kg peas in the pod
1 bunch mint
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can get)
4 x 150 g balls of buffalo mozzarella
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemons
Fine grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Shell the peas (you can keep the pods to make stock or soup).
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the garlic cloves and half of the mint on the stem. Add the peas, too, and boil them for about 3 minutes or until just tender and bright green. Drain through a sieve; retain the garlic and discard the mint.
Pour all the olive oil into a large bowl and add the warm peas, garlic and the rest of the mint. Season with salt and pepper, toss, and then leave to cool slightly.
To serve, spoon the peas with their oil and aromatics onto a platter. Tear the mozzarella into pieces and set in on top, then garnish with grated lemon zest.