Green peas are the Rodney Dangerfield of green vegetables. They get no respect. Certainly not as much as their green counterparts—broccoli, cabbage, and green beans, that boast more nutritional fire power. Even so, their color, shape, and ease of preparation assure peas a place in most kitchens.
Memories Are Made of Peas
But when I was a kid, peas were never a welcomed addition at the dinner table for me. As my mother heaped them onto my plate, the little green orbs would invade my mashed potatoes and do belly flops in the gravy. I didn’t like them, even though they were a pretty color, fun to play with, and less threatening than spinach.
In time, I made my peace with peas. Today they hang out in the freezer. I have 1.5 bags of petits pois right now. One bag is for any last minute vegetable dish I might need and the half bag serves as an ice pack for distressed body parts.
I admired my grandfather’s adeptness at eating peas by pushing them with a knife onto the back of his fork, a skill no one else in the family possessed. But actual delivery with the knife alone is considered poor manners. Though it was perfectly acceptable to eat them with a knife in the 19th century, the most popular practitioners of the knife transport today are Homer Simpson and Dudley Do Right. So I offer an ode to the bygone era:
“I eat my peas with honey. I’ve done it all my life. It makes my peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife.”
Not All Peas Are Equal
The English and Irish share a fondness for what they call mushy peas. You may recalls they were immortalized in a nursery rhyme: “Peas porridge hot; peas porridge cold. Peas porridge in the pot nine days old.” The jingle is probably a tribute to mushy peas being hearty enough to last for a long time on the back burner of a stove.
To be edible, the large, dried, marrowfat peas are first soaked in a mixture of water and bicarbonate of soda. After being boiled and mashed, the dish takes on the look of warm guacamole. I’ve had this traditional delicacy in British and Irish pubs. I once brought home a can of mushy peas from a trip, but without a proper plate of fish and chips, it wasn’t the same.
There’s little chance mushy peas will show up in mainline supermarkets or restaurants, but be sure to try the dish if you’re in the British Isles, where they know how to cook them best.
Pass the Peas Please
Since peas benefit from surrounding flavors, I often cook mine with sliced onions and carrots for a bit of sweetness. This simple recipe from Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead gets a boost from the addition of pancetta. Small peas work best.
Peas and Pancetta
- 1 Tbs. good olive oil
- 2 1/2 oz. pancetta, 1/4″ diced
- 1 large shallot, halved and sliced
- 1 (10 oz.) package frozen peas
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 Tbs. fresh mint leaves, julienned
Heat olive oil in medium (10-inch) saute pan, add pancetta and shallot. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pancetta in browned and shallot is tender. Add frozen peas, 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Cook over 4 to 5 minutes more. Stir in mint, taste for seasoning, and serve hot.