Homegrown: Green Peas
More recipes: Recipes with Fresh Peas
While still awaiting New England’s leafy greens and brimming farmers’ markets, you can taste the season’s warmth with the arrival of crisp and crunchy spring peas.
You can plant this fast-growing, cool-weather legume (Pisum sativum) as soon as the soil is workable.
The young plants will start popping up in late May in Connecticut and will make their way to Maine by late June to early July. “Peas are one of the earlier spring crops, a harbinger of the good foods to come,” says chef Jonathan Rapp, owner of River Tavern in Chester, Connecticut (860-526-9417; rivertavernchester.net).
Three major types grow well in our part of the country: garden (a.k.a. “green,” “English,” or “shell”) peas (long, thin, tough, typically inedible pods, hiding the round, firm globes inside); snow peas (with thin, edible pods); and sugar snap peas (a cross between the other two, with thick, sweet, crunchy pods that are edible before they mature). The best way to enjoy them is right off the vine. For cooking, Rapp recommends “fresh peas–if they’re not fresh, they can be too starchy.”
Wild peas likely originated in the Middle East or Central Asia before 9000 b.c. and then migrated east toward China; soon they were cultivated, and by the Middle Ages they were also grown extensively throughout Europe. They most likely made their way to New England with the original colonists. Rich in vitamins (including A, B complex, C, and K) and minerals (such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and iron), peas are also a great source of protein, making them a delicious substitute for meat in many vegetarian dishes.
Best of all, fresh peas are remarkably easy to prepare. Shelled garden peas can be steamed, blanched, or pureed. “English peas are great served with gently poached fish, such as flounder, or in a lemon cream sauce for pasta, or pureed as soup with tarragon,” Rapp notes. “Fresh pureed peas are also especially good as a sauce with chicken and tarragon.” Snap peas are a filling snack, either raw or steamed, while snow peas work well in stir fries. Both are excellent in salads, too. Just the thing to banish the chill and welcome spring’s renewal.
How to Shop for fresh Peas
Because they start losing flavor as soon as they’re picked, you want peas to be as fresh from the vine as possible. At your local market, ask for a taste; look for a sweet, crisp bite. Keep an eye out for yellow pods, which indicate peas that are past maturity.
GARDEN (“ENGLISH,” “SHELL,” OR “GREEN”) PEAS
Look for vibrant-green, full pods. Should snap open easily; peas inside should be firm, crunchy, and sweet.
Go for crisp, green pods with tiny seeds. Pods should snap or rip easily; avoid overly flimsy pods. Smaller pods
SUGAR SNAP PEAS
Check for plump, crisp, bright-green pods that snap easily and taste sweet.