It was a summer holiday ritual of my childhood that my sister and I were not released to go off on all-day adventures on bicycles until we had picked and podded that day’s dish of peas. Back then, no-one had any idea of or interest in where we had disappeared to or how long we would be gone. We were only instructed to be back in time for supper which, for the peas alone, we would not have missed.
Planted during the wintery part of the year all the way through to early summer - those jewels that emerge in July represent the epitome of summer. Sweet enough to eat raw (try offering a bowl of them with aperitifs. They will disappear faster than crisps), pick or buy them young enough that their tender pods can be eaten too. If you don’t have access to fresh peas, they are about the one unique vegetable that is just as good - some might say even better - cooked from frozen.
Back in the Middle Ages - and the present day north of England, location of the famous mushy peas made from the marrowfat pea variety - peas were grown for drying to eat as a porridge, potage or soup. Records find peas as early as the Neolithic period in the spread of land that is now know as Greece, Turkey, Jordan and Syria. Archaeologists discovered evidence of peas in the Nile delta as far back as 4800 BC, then later in Georgia and even later in Afghanistan. Peas first appeared as a staple in India and modern-day Pakistan as far back as 2250 BC. But it took several centuries for eaters to wake up to the joy of the immature pea eaten fresh.
If you are growing them yourself, or have access to a grower, don’t waste the pods. No good Perigord housewife or cook would. They make a fine soup.
Pea pod soup
- 1 kg pea pods
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
- ¾ litre chicken stock or water
- Salt to taste
- Single cream
- Small bunch of chives, finely chopped
- Pea shoots (optional)
Top and tail the pods. Melt butter in a pan and sweat shallot. Add pods and boiling stock or water. Boil gently till soft. Puree in a blender using a little of the cooking liquid to loosen, then pass through a sieve and season.
Reheat with remaining chicken stock or water. Ladle into warm bowls, swirl in a little cream, scatter over some chopped chives and a pea shoot.
If you’d like to make a main course of them, this is a delectable recipe pinched from The Guardian that pairs peas with ricotta. The two star ingredients marry well; but whereas you can happily make the previous recipe with any frozen pea, this one needs to have fresh peas for best affect and a good ricotta which unless carefully sourced can be extremely bland in flavour.
Pea, mint and ricotta
- A handful of flat-leaf parsley
- 50g toasted breadcrumbs
- 250g runner beans (topped and tailed)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 100g fresh peas
- A handful of picked mint leaves
- A handful of pea shoots
- 200g ricotta
- Salt and black pepper
Firstly make your parsley crumbs. Chop the parsley finely and bash together with the toasted breadcrumbs in a pestle and mortar.
Blanch the runner beans in boiling salted water. Remove while they still have bite, drain well, but reserve the water, then place on a hot griddle or frying pan. Char until marked and blistered.
Place on a plate and squeeze over the lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. In the same pan of boiling water, cook your peas and drain.
In a large bowl, combine the mint and pea shoots. Roughly chop the runner beans (save the dressing) then add to the salad with the cooked peas. Blob the ricotta over a large serving plate and assemble your salad over the top, dress with the reserved lemon juice and olive oil. Finish off the salad with an attractive scattering of the parsley crumbs.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of The Bugle.