Spring peas are one of the most versatile and smile-inducing ingredients this season, and everyone loves them, chefs included. So we tapped the pros for their favorite spring pea recipes and tips, including how to keep peas bright green and how to store them for later.
Braised dishes and root vegetables? That’s so February. Right now it’s all about seasonal produce popping up and cropping up—and much of it also just so happens to be green. Ramps, asparagus, spring onions, and leeks are ever-popular right now in oh so many dishes. But one ingredient really has chefs excited: spring peas.
Chef Tips to Make the Most of Peas: How to Keep Them Bright Green
“Every which way right now is just electric: the crunch, the sweetness,” declares Gabe McMackin, chef and owner of The Finch in Brooklyn and executive chef at Troutbeck in Amenia, New York. “Pick them young and do very little to them,” he suggests.
If they are sugar snap peas this means just removing the string and giving them a quick dunk in boiled salt water to set the color—just make sure to immediately shock them in ice water or they will lose their irresistible signature crunch.
“English peas are the one ingredient chefs like to fully cook,” McMackin notes, ‘[or] they can be waxy like an undercooked bean.” But again, if they are just-picked, a quick blanching in boiling water followed by an ice water bath will keep them sweet and crisp. He likes to serve what he refers to as “a magical warm salad of peas” with tarragon, lemon zest, basil, and ramps, which can be replaced by spinach or any greens you have on hand; see the recipe below:
Warm Salad of Peas and Ramps with Mint, Basil, and Lemon
- 4 cups shelled English peas and/or sugar snap peas, strings removed
- ¼ cup mint leaves, picked
- ¼ cup basil leaves, torn
- Zest of 1 lemon, zested on Microplane grater
- 4 cups ramp leaves sliced crosswise (keep the bulbs in the ground if you are picking them yourself)
- Salt, pepper, and olive oil, to taste
- Bring a pot of water to boil, salt it generously, then drop the peas in for just a few seconds (up to 30) until the color is set and they are still crunchy. Transfer peas to a bowl of ice water, and cool thoroughly, then drain.
- Warm a saute pan or a small pot over medium heat. Add ½ cup water until it steams and starts to boil. Add the peas, toss and season with salt and pepper. (There should be enough water to steam the peas gently but not so much that it gets soupy.)
- Add the ramp leaves, toss until they start to wilt and change color and then immediately remove from the pan.
- Add the lemon zest, olive oil, basil and mint, toss and season to taste. taste it for seasoning.
Serve it as a starter or over risotto or rigatoni topped with parmesan cheese, or mixed with a little crème fraiche as a garnish for roasted chicken, gently-cooked hake, black bass, or steamed clams. For a cold version of the salad don’t reheat the peas, he says. “After you drain them, toss with some baby lettuces, dress lightly with rice wine vinegar and olive oil and have at it—a bit of buttermilk is nice here too.”
How to Store Fresh Peas for Later
Pea plants can be quite prolific this time of year, so if you have a garden you’ll probably pick them more quickly than you can eat them and will require a foolproof method to store them. Not a problem, says Benjamin Tenner, chef at Espita Mezcaleria in Washington, D.C. “Shuck them, lay them out on a paper towel-lined baking tray, and freeze them in a single layer,” he says. “After they’re frozen I store them in a plastic zip-locked freezer bag.”
Stasher Silicone Storage Bags, $7.99-$15.99 at The Container Store
These reusable bags are freezer and dishwasher safe.
From this point on you can use them as you would frozen peas from the grocery store—albeit much higher quality—blanched with a little sugar and salt and sauteed with pasta or tossed with rendered bacon and butter, served as a side dish.
But if you are planning on keeping your garden or farmer’s market bounty fresh rather than freezing it, Andy Clark, executive chef of Napoli Pasta Bar in Washington, D.C., recommends keeping peas in the shell and processing them as soon as possible. He believes truffles are a classic partner, like in pea- and ricotta-stuffed agnoletti bathed in a truffle broth with more blanched peas:
“One of my other favorite spring combinations using peas is lamb and mint, [and] the best way to marry these is with pasta!” He makes a ragu with braised shredded lamb, onions, garlic, red wine and lamb stock, tossed with fettuccine, fresh peas, lemon juice, and mint. “It’s a perfect taste of spring with the comfort of a bowl of pasta!” And don’t discard the pea tendrils, which share the vegetable’s delicate flavor.
Related Reading: 9 Produce Subscriptions You Should Know About
The Secret to a Bright Green Pea Puree
If during the course of the season you do happen to tire of cooking and serving whole peas, Clark says a pea puree is a great alternative. Here is his recipe:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup shallots, sliced
- ¼ cup garlic, peeled and sliced
- 3 cups English peas, raw
- 1 cup spinach, raw and packed into the cup
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat a large saute pan on medium and add the butter. When it melts, sweat the shallots and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
- Add the peas and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and heavy cream and let simmer for until the peas are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the pea mixture from the stove, add the spinach and stir until just-wilted. Strain off the liquid and reserve, add the solid contents to the blender and blend until smooth, adding additional liquid if you desire a thinner consistency.
The secret to a bright green puree he says, is to remove the sauteed peas, shallots, and garlic from the heat and toss with raw spinach just until it’s wilted. Strain out the liquid and add the solid contents to the blender, and riff on the puree with a few drops of truffle oil or a couple of tablespoons of chopped mint.
Can You Eat Raw Peas?
Indeed; sometimes the best recipe for fresh peas is no recipe at all. “Spring peas are perfect raw right out of the pod, a sweet and delicious snack with zero cooking required,” declares cookbook author and culinary journalist Rob Rosenthal, who penned the cookbook “Short Order Dad: One Guy’s Guide to Making Food Fun and Hassle-Free.”
He also likes to use them in small bite-sized pasta shapes like farfalle or orecchiette cooked al dente, drained, and tossed with butter or olive oil, peas, grated parmesan cheese, and tarragon. “You could also add asparagus tips and lemon zest for a real taste of spring goodness [and] maximize flavor…with sausage, bacon, and pancetta.”
“If you want to go a more refreshing way, use them in a spring pea salad with feta or goat cheese and a little red onion,” they say. “[That’s] also fantastic with a poached egg if you are feeling adventurous.”
A Perfect Pea Soup
Of course, a pureed soup is one of those iconic pea-based recipes and every chef seems to have his or her personal variation. David Lee, executive chef and co-founder of Planta, a multi-concept plant-based chain, makes a version that also includes asparagus, garnished with bomba chilis, capers, basil and/or cilantro:
Spring Peas & Asparagus Soup
- 2 cups spring peas, fresh or frozen
- 2 cups asparagus, trimmed
- 5 cups water
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ red onion, chopped
- Kosher salt to taste
- Bomba chili, capers, basil and/or cilantro, for garnish
- Add all ingredients except garnishes to a stockpot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Blend the soup slowly in a Vitamix blender. Garnish as desired and serve.
Yes, peas, we’ll gladly have another bowl!
Header image by Chowhound