Bites of Spring
Photos by Laura Petrilla
Some vegetables have been unfairly maligned. Think of how many generations of children (and adults) have been prejudiced against Brussels sprouts, when in reality, these miniature little cabbages should be treasured for their nutty and distinctive flavors.
People hear “pea soup” and immediately imagine some drab olive-green concoction with the consistency of wallpaper paste and a flavor to match. But peas are some of the first flavors of spring and should be anticipated and celebrated like the first bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau in November or the first spears of asparagus in March or April.
Actually, spring’s English peas are quite different from the field peas, which are meant to be dried, and from snap peas, which are eaten pods and all. English, or garden, peas are best cooked and eaten immediately after they come out of their shells. It’s always a good idea to buy more than you think you’ll need because a pound only results in a cup of the shelled peas. If you need to store them for a day or so, you can wrap them well and keep them in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
The other danger is overcooking. If you are going to use the peas in a salad, you can just blanch them for half a minute in boiling water followed by an ice-water bath. That will keep their crunch and beautiful green color.
But the classic preparation is a cold pea soup accented with fresh mint, a dollop of crème fraîche and a miniature bouquet of pea tendrils. If peas have been unfairly relegated to your “do not eat” list, give them a try this spring. We’ll work on brussels sprouts in the fall.
Visit pittsburghmagazine.com for my parmesan-and-herb crouton recipe. Croutons are a crunchy accompaniment to any soup and just as delicious for snacking.
Make the most of the first English peas of the season with this traditional cold pea soup, garnished with mint, crème fraîche and pea tendrils.
Cold English Pea Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 8 cups water
- 4 pounds fresh English peas (4 cups shelled)
- Ice-water bath
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- 4 fresh mint leaves (plus more for garnish)
- Crème fraîche, for garnish
In a small sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onion until it is soft but not browned. Bring 8 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Add the shelled peas and bring back to a boil. Let cook until the peas are tender but still bright green, about 6 minutes.
Drain the peas, reserving about 1/2 cup of the boiling liquid and immediately put them into an ice-water bath. This will help them retain their beautiful green color.
Drain the peas and return them to a high-sided pot or bowl along with the reserved cooking liquid and softened onions. Use an immersion blender to puree the peas. Salt and pepper to taste; add 4 mint leaves and continue to puree.
Serve at room temperature or chilled with a dollop of crème fraîche, mint leaves and some pea tendrils if they are available.