I’m lucky to be a chef in Colorado. This land produces some unbelievable food, tender, tasty game, vegetables and fruits (especially pitted, but that’s much later in the season) with such crisp, sweet profiles, perfect and abundant. I like the hint April gives to the yield of the months ahead.
For me, the first culinary sign of spring is peas. Nice, big, plump green as can be peas. Peas are vibrant, fun, and versatile as all get out because you can do anything with them; they are brilliant in color, sweet in flavor, lively in texture, and perfectly ripe at this very moment.
The best place to find good local, organic and heirloom peas is at the farmers market, but there aren’t a lot of those around just yet, so Whole Foods works well. I was at Safeway last weekend, and they had an abundance of organic peas. (I get mine from Paul Stoiker at Foothills Fresh, but I don’t think he sells to the general public.)
When peas hit their flavor peak, they firm up and shine–crisp and bright green. Look for pods with no breaks and no sags, they shouldn’t bow when you hold the tip. The pointy ends will be darker than the middle, but not brown. Pick the pods individually rather than in handfuls so an off pod doesn’t spoil the batch.
To shell peas, run a thumb along the seam and squeeze lightly as you near the tip; when it pops open, slide your finger along the underside of the globes and they’ll burst right out. No need to rinse; just compost the husks and get ready to eat.
As an appetizer: put the peas in a bowl to eat right now, unsullied and raw and flavorful. Dust them with a bit of sea salt; throw in a few sprigs of finely chopped fresh mint and a drizzle of olive oil. (Fresh raw peas are an easy but impressive way to begin a date.)
If you’d prefer to cook them:
As a side dish, get some water at a rapid boil. Drop in peas; after 2 minutes drain and run under ice cold water. (This is how vegetables are “shocked”. It completely ends the cooking process and forces greens to release extra chlorophyll, which turns them even more green and vibrant). Drain; return the cold peas to the pan and sautÃ© in a little butter and sea salt.
As a garnish (pureed, tastes wonderful beneath chicken and white flaky fishes): Place peas in rapid boiling water and leave bubbling for 8 minutes. Drain and shock (see above), then pour cold peas in the blender. Add a little water (even better, vegetable stock), and pulse. Keep adding liquid in small amounts and pulsing until the peas are the texture of a creamy soup. Season with white pepper, sea salt, and just a pinch of red Chile seeds. Serve under a fresh piece of steamed or sauteed fish with mint & lemon juice.
As a main dish (pasta): Throw the peas in with the pasta for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta and peas, and then toss with olive oil and sea salt. Top with thinly sliced pecorino cheese.
Versatile, butter and a little bacon