Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two peas in a pod


PEAS! PEAS! PEAS!
As you might have guessed already, I loooooove peas. As much as, if not more than, I love asparagus.

Perhaps it's because pea season is so short in my neck of the woods. Like incredibly short: peas like cool and damp, yet sunny weather. Spring. However, spring in Montreal tends to be short, and quickly turns to hot, sweltering summer. Well not this year. Nor last year for that matter... (grumble, grumble, global warming screwing around with normal weather patterns...)

Anyhoo, peas. Peas love long, cool springs, or short and mild winters. So if you're a pea fanatic, you have to live in the UK. Which is what I did for two years. And I ate fresh peas for 6 weeks out of the year. And I was happy. Overworked (and overwrought), but happy to have fresh shelled peas for a month and a half. I ate them at home until my sweetheart grew sick of them. I ate them at work while shelling whole cases of fresh peas. And I never tired of them. They were gone before you knew it. If you do decide to move to the UK just so you can feast on peas,don't buy pre-shelled peas -unless they are frozen: they are quite vile!

Peas, like asparagus and corn, are perishable sweets. The sugars in peas quickly turn to starch after they are picked, which is why big, fat peas tend to be a little mushy. Freshly picked (within a day or two) or younger pods (those that are not super taught and plump) will be sweet and juicy: they almost burst on contact with your teeth. Some varieties of peas are soooo sweet, they can hurt your teeth!

(For those of you wondering: my peas are slowly recovering from Ms Molly's assault. They have yet to start flowering, but they are growing along nicely, and our long, wet and cool spring seems to be helping. Thank you Weather Gods. Thanks to your generous rains, and unseasonably cool temperatures, I think I might succeed in having a nice harvest of peas this year!)

I found some cute New Jersey peas (yes, I know, not local...) at Jean-Talon Market. So if I were to extrapolate from the Jersey strawbs, I'd say that New Jersey is a week or two earlier than Montreal, so we're probably two weeks away from Montérégie peas... British Colombians probably already have Okanagan peas, and Southern Ontario might be a week off. California peas have already come and gone a month ago.

Why bother with shelling peas when they are so readily available and cheap frozen? Well, with that kind of logic, why bother with any fresh foods?!?!?!! Fresh peas are luscious, lovely, succulent... and sweet! Natural sugar. If you're trying to cut down on your refined sugar intake, peas can satisfy your sweet tooth without the guilt.

One cup (145g) of plain, steamed (10 minutes) or boiled (5minutes) peas are low in calories: only 117 (whatever that means!), 1g of fat, 7g dietary fibers, and 8g of protein.

But who am I kidding? Fresh peas deserve some butter! You can either toss a pat (or a knob) of butter onto your just-out-of-the-steamer/boiler-peas, add a dash of salt, and dig in. Or you can melt the butter in a warm pan, toss in the cooked peas, add some chopped mint, salt and pepper, and serve in a platter.
The English love their peas with mint. Actually, I think the statement should be: the English love mint... with peas, with new potatoes, with lamb, with dessert...

But I digress. Peas and mint are a classic. While it took me some time to warm up to the idea of peas with mint, it is a pleasant combination. The fresh mintiness brings out the sweetness of the peas, and it is rawther delightful!

Chilled -or hot- pea soup with mint is also very lovely, but this is one recipe where I would recommend using frozen peas, as shelling enough peas for a soup can be somewhat tedious. Even for a gung-ho pea nut. (tee hee hee!)

Fresh Pea Soup (chilled for warm days, or hot on chilly days)
for 4 as a starter or 2 as a main dish


2 cups (½L) water
1 big handful fresh mint leaves
4 cups (680g) peas (if using frozen, buy 'fancy' or small sized peas)
1 small onion
oil
salt and pepper
1 cup (250mL) or more cream

-Bring water to the boil. Throw in the mint leaves, and boil until the mint turns bright green. Strain out the leaves, and KEEP THE WATER. Refresh the mint under cold running water, or in an ice bath.
-Chop the onion, and sauté in a bit of oil until translucent. Set aside.
-Bring the water back to the boil, throw in the peas and the cooked onion. Cook until peas are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
-If serving cold, strain out the peas and onion, keeping the cooking liquor, and cool down as quickly as possible: in a bowl on ice, on plate in the freezer. The liquor should be put on ice.
When everything is nice and chilled, whizz in a blender, adding enough liquor to obtain a smooth purée. Season, add cream until a nice shade of mint green.
-If serving hot, don't bother chilling the peas.
-You can either blend the mint straight into the soup, or you can do what most English chefs do: make a mint oil for garnish. Blend the blanched mint with a ½c (125mL) neutral oil (canola, corn, vegetable or a very mild olive) until you get a green oil. Drizzle on each portion of soup, and there you have it: a fancy bowl of soup!

Whether or not you decide to try out this soup, pleeeease, pleeeease, do not look unto a pea pod with disdain! It is a little hard work to shell a mound of peas, only to end up with a handful. But please, shell some peas, if only once per season. Shell some peas à deux, in a chatty crowd, or on your own. And you will start to enjoy it, you might even look forward to the next time. It is quite meditative. In London, I would sometimes shell a handful after work (at midnight) for a late night snack. I could feel my stresses lifting from my shoulders as I popped each pod to uncover the little green pearls. I look forward to my next encounter with these gems.

Bon app'!

2 comments:

  1. This is the cutest post, ever! Who would have thought a pea could take the limelight to this extent?!

    Your pea soup sounds good, but I'm a little hesitant to add mint. Mint seems to overwhelm a lot of recipes...but it sounds like it actually works for this recipe. I love trying new things so we'll see what happens!!

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  2. You can always leave the mint oil out, and just use the very lightly minty cooking water as a stock for the soup. Hope you like the soup, and bon app'!

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