Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At Market...English Peas

Yes, it's true...they (being peas) are here. I am always thrilled to watch the seasons unfold through produce, and am keenly aware of how much better food tastes when we truly long for it, when we fantasize about that first taste after so many months without. There is much truth to the old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I am excited about the appearance of peas, but what I really long for is stone fruit. But peas...peas are a beautiful thing. And we are doubly lucky to have a two harvests here in southern California-one in the spring, and a smaller one in the fall.

As I child I always hated peas. But then again, I hadn't really had a fresh one, only the frozen variety. And never, ever in my own home, only over at friends' houses. They were grayish green, mushy and tasted...well, they tasted about as appetizing as they looked. But peas plucked fresh from the pod are a wonder indeed and a true harbinger of spring. Cooked properly, they burst in the mouth with a sweet earthiness that is a far cry from the overcooked frozen variety of my childhood. If you can't find them at a green market, don't bother, because they need to be eaten quickly after harvesting or they turn starchy. All they need is to be plucked from their shells just before you are ready to use them, and then the very briefest dunk in a simmering pot of water. One pound of peas in their shells turns out to be about a cup full of actual peas when all is said and done. You won't regret the minor trouble to shell them, and if you have small children, like I do, it is a perfect way to keep them busy and out of your way in the kitchen.

I'm sad to report that this pasta dish used up the last jar of my homemade tomato sauce. Next year, I will have to make a double batch. The recipe is adapted from the very energetic Jamie Oliver, who inspires me with his fresh, carefree approach to cooking. I have never tried a recipe of his that I didn't like, and as always, there is room for improvisation. Use what you have, what is seasonal, and serve it with confidence and flair, and you will be virtually guaranteed success in the kitchen.

Pasta with Peas and Sausage Meatballs

Cook one pound of fusilli according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat one jar of your favorite tomato sauce (homemade is great as is TJ's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara, or Rao's for a splurge). Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Pour in about 1 T of olive oil and when hot, squeeze out from its casing plops of one pound of Italian sausage into the pan, forming mini meatballs (about the size of a walnut is good). They shouldn't look round and perfect, we are going for a rustic look. Brown meatballs on all sides and continue to saute until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. When the pasta is done pour it into a large bowl and toss with enough of the hot marinara sauce to moisten. Dump 1 C freshly shelled peas into the boiling pasta water and cook until they return to the surface, which should take less than 30 seconds. Pour pasta out onto a platter, top with meatballs, blanched peas, fresh basil leaves and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

1 comment:

Kasey said...

I love peas! That just sing Spring :)