Chef Kelly Unger
Fresh Peas are here for the season!
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
The beauties are just arriving this week! The three types of fresh peas are sugar snap peas, snow peas (once known as the Holland pea because it was developed by a Dutch horticulturist) and the English/Garden/Shelling/Pod peas. While the sugar snap and snow pea pods are edible, the shelling pea shells are not, hence the most common way to refer to them. But I think it's a great way to connect with your food. To sit in the shade with a bowl or basket of shelling peas on your lap and have to touch each one to extract the peas manually, gives you time to appreciate the effort it took our farmers to grow them for us. And don't throw those shells away! Add them to your vegetable scraps bag (you know, the one you keep in your fridge and add onion ends and peels, and other vegetable trimmings) to make vegetable broth with. There is very little you need to do to fresh shelling peas to enjoy them. They require only a few minutes of cooking and seem to enjoy butter as a companion ;) This week I'm sharing a quick and simple vegetarian dish from Deborah Madison's book Vegetable Literacy, called Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs. This could also be a complete side dish to any grilled meat. Peas are in the Legume family of vegetables along with: alfalfa, bean sprouts, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, dried common beans, favs beans, fenugreek, green beans, jicama, lentils, lupines, mesquite, mung beans, peanuts, pea shoots, pinto beans, pole beans, rattlesnake beans, Romano beans, soybeans, split peas, tamarind, and teary beans. There's an interesting story of how the sugar snap pea came to be. In 1969, Calvin Lamborn, a pea breeder at Gallatin Valley Seed Company (in Idaho), was trying to create a straighter snow pea. When he crossed it with a very linear and unusually thick English pea, he ended up with something completely new - the beginning of the sugar snap pea. He improved this new creation, after many, many tries, to be stringless as well. Now stringless Snap Peas are standard. Calvin eventually left Gallatin to create his own company, Magic Seed Inc. He began working on creating different colored peas and pea plants with flavorful greens. Flavor was always his main goal and instead of selling his seeds on the open market, Calvin contracted with specific farmers who shared his flavor first mission. Before his death in 2017, he gained popularity once again with chefs, calling attention to his important work. Today his seed can be purchased from eatmorepeas.com and are grown by Farmer Lee Jones at The Chef's Garden Culinary Vegetable Institute.
The Chef’s Garden is a wonderful vegetable guide and cookbook by Farmer Lee Jones. I highly recommend purchasing it! He has top notch chefs working with him to create modern, high end recipes that are incredibly creative. For example, the Peas and Carrots Ice Cream Sandwiches (thin carrot cake with green pea ice cream) and the savory Sweet Pea Flip cocktail are just two gorgeous examples in the pea chapter alone.
The French way to cook fresh peas is with onions and either bacon or ham. Anyway you decide to cook them, just don't cook them for long. Make sure they still have their bright green color.
Enjoy this week's recipe and its variation with pasta. I also think cooking the peas as instructed below and then cooled to room temperature would work very well over a greens salad with some fresh goat cheese. And always garnish with some edible flowers!
Peas with Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs
Recipe from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
A light supper for two
1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped full-fat ricotta
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
4 teaspoons butter
2 large shallots or ½ small onion, finely diced
5 small sage leaves, minced
1 ½ lbs pod peas shucked (about 1 cup)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.
If your ricotta is wet and miiky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)
When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, ½ cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary; but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.
Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.
With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.