The Peas Of Spring, the Peas of Summer

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Harvesting Spring Peas and Sowing Summer Peas

I’ve always enjoyed shelling peas, slitting the backs of the plump pods with my thumbnail and slipping a finger beneath the fat little peas to coax them out of their cocoon. I fondly imagine that when I’m old(er) and grey(er), I’ll spend spring in a rocking chair in the corner of my daughter-in-law’s kitchen, filling bowls with new peas. My favorite early peas (Blauschokker) boasted smoky purple pods that were the hit of my annual Fairy House program at the local library where I work. The kids turned the pods into wee boats, baskets, and cushions, while I had enjoyed the peas themselves in several ways.

Even when eaten raw, the first infant peas of spring melt in the mouth, with none of the mealy texture and chalky taste of later peas. That’s why I usually serve them in raw salads or the quickest of braises, so that delicacy is not lost to over-cooking. Though my spring peas are finally finished, the summer peas are coming on quickly, thanks to our (mostly) continuing cool weather. I plant my summer peas where they get full morning sun and some afternoon shade, which seems to help stretch their season a bit.

Early Does It

I like to harvest every few days to get small and tender peas, quite unlike the tough, mealy marbles they can become by later in the summer. Summer peas prefer more warmth than maritime Northwestern  can reliably offer, but the hot days do fill out those pods in a hurry. Indeed, sometimes we need to be quick to catch them before others do. My buddy Rick told me about finding his pea pods stubbornly flat, despite all the care and feeding he gave his plants. Finally he saw a young raccoon slitting the pods open with his razor-sharp claw and scooping out the forming peas.

So far, my local raccoons have not discovered my peas, which live on my high upper deck, safe from deer and other marauders. Now that the heat seems to be arriving for real, the snow peas and sugar snaps of spring are replaced by the meatier Oregon peas that do much better in warm weather and make delicious soup. I like to grow Bingo, a shelling pea with more tendrils than leaves, offering plenty of extra twisty bits to harvest for salads and stir fries. Chunky Dakota packs its pods with big peas that remain succulent even if you overlook the chubby pods for a few days.

Baby Peas & Butter Lettuce

The French partner baby peas with lettuce, a cooked combination that leaves some folks dubious. Overcooked, it’s a mushy mess, but when cooked with speed and full attention, it’s a dainty delicacy indeed. This version cooks very quickly, so don’t start it until you’re almost ready to eat.

French New Peas

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fruity olive oil
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1-1/2 cups shelled peas
2 tablespoons dry white wine or vegetable broth
1 small head butter lettuce, trimmed, sliced in ribbons
4 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Melt butter with 1 teaspoon olive oil in a wide shallow pan over medium high heat. Add sweet onion and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and cook until fragrant. Add peas and wine or broth, cover pan, reduce heat to medium low and cook until barely tender (2-3 minutes). Add lettuce, green onions, and pepper, cover pan and cook until lettuce is barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Toss with remaining oil, season to taste with remaining salt and serve warm. Serves 4-6.

Two Peas With Truly Tasty Tofu

This lively stir fry of fresh peas and tofu with mint and garlic is lovely spooned over rice or any cooked grain, from buckwheat groats to barley. Pressing and drying the tofu makes for a tastier dish with a better texture and stronger flavor. It takes a while, but it can be draining while the grain cooks and will be ready to use when you need it. Sanbai-su is a traditional Japanese seasoning sauce, but you can substitute tamari and vinegar if you prefer.

Two Peas With Spicy Tofu

12-16 ounces firm tofu, rinsed and drained
1 cup raw short grain brown rice
2 tablespoons safflower oil
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
1 cup shelled fresh peas
1 cup snow peas (in pods)
2 cups Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sanbai-su
OR 2 teaspoons each rice vinegar and tamari or soy sauce

Place tofu on a plate, cover it with another plate and put a weight on top to press out excess moisture. After 30 minutes, drain tofu, pat dry and chop into 1-inch squares, then set aside. Cook rice or grain according to package directions. When rice is nearly done, begin stir fry: In a wok or large frying pan, combine oils over medium high heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook until pale golden (1-2 minutes). Add tofu and cook until crisp (2-3 minutes), then flip to crisp other side. Add peas, pea pods, and cabbage and cook, stirring often, until tender-crisp (2-3 minutes). Add green onions and pepper and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with sanbai-su or vinegar and tamari or soy sauce. Serve at once, over rice or grain. Serves four.

Italian Peas and Pasta

This sturdy Italian spring dish partners new peas with fresh herbs and pasta for a lovely lunch or dinner entree. Rosemary, thyme, and parsley are traditional with peas, but lemon gives this dish a new twist. Flavorful brown rice pasta makes this dish gluten-free.

Italian Pasta and Peas with Fresh Herbs  

8 ounces shell or bowtie brown rice pasta (or any)
3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups shelled fresh peas
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary OR lemon verbena
2 teaspoons stemmed thyme OR lemon thyme
2 tablespoons stemmed flat Italian parsley
1/2 cup shredded basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-4 ounces soft goat cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is nearly done, put oil in a large saucepan over medium heat with lemon rind and garlic and cook until garlic is pale golden (2 minutes). Add peas, cover pan and cook until peas are barely tender (2-3 minutes). Add herbs, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover pan and remove from heat. Drain hot pasta and toss with the goat cheese, the peas and herbed oil, adding salt and lemon juice to taste (start with 1 teaspoon juice). Serve warm or at room temperature Serves 4.

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