Miriam's Garden: Sweet pea dreams

In my work on this column I think I've used every pea cliche there is. I've given peas a chance. Recently, I wrote "peas -- pleeze." I've also pined for peas, ached for peas and typed, "Aw shucks, no peas." My intention this time is to present peas simply, without guile or turn of phrase. To express an unabashed love of sweet green peas. Except they're not growing as fast as I need them.

So, I'm still dreaming about peas, thinking good thoughts about peas and hoping that this recent hot-and-humid spell will be followed by a rainier and cooler spell, which will spell more fabulous peas. But it doesn't seem likely.

I only grow green peas, aka English peas, or in the words of my Southern friend Carroll Leggett, June peas. A lovely name for them.

In June, or even in early July, there's nothing like fresh garden peas. Nothing tastes better plucked right off the vine (except tomatoes, of course). This is why, even if you grow a whole lot of peas, few make it into the kitchen. But with my crop's smaller output, a grazing restraint was in order. I needed these peas to make my recipes.

While picking them, I had to sternly remind myself to not crack open the pod with my thumb. Not to scoop out the tender, sweet, crisp peas with my teeth. These peas must join the others in a plastic bag in the fridge. Each fat pod clunked into my basket as I resisted temptation.

As in many other years, spring was fickle and our peas needed to be sown twice before they really took off and grew. We strive to put in an early garden, and to get a jump on our neighbor Frank, who seems to start his garden in February under a blanket of snow. But too often our early peas damp off and shrivel, while Frank's mysteriously thrive. The next batch, planted later, and in warmer soil and improved weather always survives. We don't know what our neighbor's secret is.

Next year, we're going to do things a little differently. My garden guides say that peas need to be rotated each year. While we're pretty careful about rotating other crops such as peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, we tend to put peas in the same place each year. We also need to lighten the heavy clay soil more with organic matter.

In the garden there are two types of green peas, both from Johnny's Selected Seeds. One variety is taller, later and lighter green and the other is shorter, earlier and darker green. I am not positive of the names because they didn't get re-labeled when they were replanted. I think the shorter, earlier peas are 'Strike.' They're coated with "Natural 11," an organic substance to help them thrive in cold soils. Non-organic coated pea seeds are bright pink. These are a dull green. I can't really say if they were helped by the coating; maybe not. The germination was spotty.

The taller, later peas are, I believe, 'Sienna.' New to me, the vines look healthy. These are the ones I've been waiting on. Seems promising!

I don't usually plant sugar-snap peas. Not because I don't like them -- I love them -- but they're very prolific. They're also hard to give away because everyone else grows them. No one gives away their green peas; they're too precious. But I've included a couple recipes for preparing them.

To equalize the pea love.

Green Peas with Butter and Lettuce

PG tested

Garden peas, garden onions, garden lettuce. Served with freshly-dug garden potatoes. I hate to gloat but this was my dinner the other night.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 medium-size, sweet, knobby garden onion or 3 scallions, sliced with some of the greens, about 3/4 cup

  • 1 sprig thyme

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 small or 1 medium Bibb-type lettuces, rinsed and sliced crosswise into 1-inch ribbons,

  • 2 loosely packed cups (I used Deer Tongue lettuce)

  • 8 ounces or more fresh green peas, shucked (about 2/3 cup)

Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat and stir in onion or scallions and thyme. Sprinkle with a little salt, cover and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add lettuce, peas and 2 tablespoons water. Stir well, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until peas are tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove thyme. Season to taste with salt. Devour.

Makes 2 or 3 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Curried Mushrooms and Peas

PG tested

I worried that the spices would overpower the peas. No worries, the pea flavor comes through and the dish shines. Serve over steamed white rice.

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated garlic (about 2 large cloves)

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (the recipe called for more, this was plenty)

  • 1/4 cup chopped tomato

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 12-ounce container white or brown button mushrooms, quartered (halve smaller mushrooms)

  • 3/4 cup shelled fresh peas

  • 1/3 cup water

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat oil and butter in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add red onion and saute, stirring frequently, until browned. Add ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne; cook and stir constantly over medium heat until golden. This will happen quickly, so be careful it doesn't burn. Add tomato and cilantro, saute another minute.

Add mushrooms and peas and mix well. Add water and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook 5 minutes. Uncover and cook 3 to 5 more minutes, until peas and mushrooms are tender and juices are slightly reduced. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

-- Adapted from "5 Spices, 50 Dishes" by Ruta Kahate (Chronicle, 2007).

Sugar-Snap Peas with Red Onion Vinaigrette and Romano

PG tested

This is based on a recipe from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?" She based it on a dish enjoyed at NYC's Union Square Cafe, a restaurant that knows how to cook a vegetable. Her recipe called for crisped pancetta, but I had none. So I adapted the recipe but kept the idea of the red-onion vinaigrette and Romano cheese. Don't skip stringing the peas, please.

  • Kosher salt

  • 8 ounces sugar-snap peas, trimmed and stringed

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Romano or parmesan

Bring 1 inch water to boil over high heat in deep medium skillet. Add big pinch salt and peas. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain in colander and rinse under cold water. Drain again. If desired, cut each snap-pea lengthwise in half so they can scoop up more dressing.

In medium serving bowl, mix oil, red onion, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Add peas, toss and season again. Sprinkle with cheese.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

-- Adapted from "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?" by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2010)

Sugar-Snap Peas with Mint

PG tested

  • A simply perfect recipe.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • 1/3 cup water

  • Coarse or kosher salt

  • 8 ounces sugar-snap peas, trimmed and stringed

  • 1/4 cup packed thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

  • Freshly ground black pepper

In medium skillet or wide saucepan, bring butter, water and pinch salt to boil over high heat. Add peas, cover and cook until bright green, about 2 minutes. Uncover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until peas are crisp-tender and water has mostly evaporated, about 4 minutes.

Remove from heat. Toss with mint and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

-- Adapted from "Great Food Fast: 250 Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals All Year Long" from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living, (Clarkson Potter, 2007)

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin.


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