Sunday, November 16, 2008

Second Coming

I was beyond thrilled this when I ventured back to the farmers' market this morning to see that English Shelling Peas are back in season. When I asked the grower how long they would be available he said until first frost, which in California could be tomorrow (though I doubt that), or two months from now.

I had never tried a pea that I actually liked until I tried fresh peas from the farmers' market. I have very clear memories as a child of disgusting frozen bags of peas, carrots and corn, being served up at friends' homes for dinner. I like carrots and corn, but everything in those bags tasted of peas....old, frozen, starchy peas. As a polite guest, I never refused to eat anything, and on one particular occasion, I decided to eat my peas first to get it over with. The mother of my friend was so ecstatic that I actually ate my vegetables, that she gave me another large serving. Oh well...

My opinion changed the first time I shelled peas and ate them fresh from the farm. Fresh and in season peas are crisp, sweet, and not at all starchy. They are best when used within a day or two of being picked and immediately after removing them from their pod. Over-cooking peas leads to a grey, starchy mess, and my preferred method for cooking them is to barely blanch them in salted water. Their color remains bright green, and their texture and flavor is as fresh and vivid as their color.

Tonight I made fresh egg linguine and served it with a cream sauce, blanched peas, pancetta and Parmesan cheese. It was a perfect and delicious way to end the weekend!

Pasta with Pancetta and Peas
Serves 4

1 pound fresh linguine (recipe here)
1 pound of fresh English peas, shelled
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 oz. pancetta, chopped
1 C cream
1/4 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

Bring large salted pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute pancetta until browned and crisp over medium heat. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Lower heat and add shallots and garlic to fat in pan with a pinch of salt and saute until soft. Add cream, turn up heat to medium high, and bring to a slow boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg, just a pinch.

Meanwhile, when pot of water comes to a boil, blanch the peas for 1-2 minutes, or until they rise to the surface of the water. Remove from water, and place in skillet into cream mixture. Boil pasta in same pot of water for about 3 minutes or according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and pour out into large bowl and pour over cream and peas. Toss with grated Parmesan cheese and reserved pancetta and serve.

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