If you’re looking for the lowest toil-to-taste ratio in your early summer produce, sweet truly in season peas are maybe not at the top of your list. Though not as much of a chore to prep as favas — two pods to peel? Fugheddaboutit — they do require some work before you pop them into your mouth, unlike cherries, berries and the peaches, which we’ve heard have landed at markets already. But once you’ve shelled them, they’re pure pleasure. And it’s a zen-like task, we think, perfect for a long phone conversation (head-set required) or even sitting on a park bench. What? You’ve never prepped your produce in Union Square?
Bought early and small, peas are indeed sweet as can be, perfect raw in a salad, barely blanched with some farfalle and ricotta or crushed and added to eggs or atop some thick white bread coated with garlic and olive oil. (In fact plain and simple is the way dozens of participating Eat Drink Local Week restaurants are serving them between now and June 30; check the menus here.) And even though there’s that same rumor about peas that there is about corn — that if you don’t eat them within seconds of plucking them, their sweetness slowly fades — we’ve kept them in the crisper for days and been happy with their great taste.
True, bought a little later or bigger, peas do tend to lean a a bit more toward the legumey side, but even those are fantastic in a puree with a little salt and olive oil, spread atop more good bread. At any stage, we like to make a pea pesto that’s heavy on the produce: When they’re good and sweet, we leave out the Parmigiania and add a bit of mint and eat it right on bread or atop ricotta ravioli, when they’re savory we make more of that farfalle, then thin out the sauce with a little pasta water and oil and toss it well with freshly cracked black pepper and breadcrumbs.
If you have a garden space, be sure to try your hand at planting peas next spring–the Hudson Valley Seed Library sells the old-favorite Green Arrow Shell Pea that’s been selected for our planting area and grows without a trellis. Better still, when you grow your own you can plant extra and harvest the pea shoots in the early spring, to boot. Those make pretty good pesto, too.
Greenmarket Sweet Pea Pesto
1-2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1/8 cup grated good quality Parmigiana-Reggiano or Pecorino or good quality salty grating cheese or even aged Bloomsday from Cato Corner, if you’re in a pinch
1/8 cup nuts, such as pine, pistachio, or almonds
1 pound peas in the pod, shelled and blanched
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
Process the garlic and salt in a food processor. Add the nuts and process until finely crushed. Add the peas and process until the mixture forms a rough paste. Add a teaspoon or two of water until it holds together. (Use the warm water from blanching the peas if it’s still around.) Drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube and process until incorporated. Add more olive oil and salt to taste. Eat with a spoon, or use to top any kind of carbohydrate you like, or eggs, or fish, or….