June 7th, 2012
Have green peas hit your farmer’s market? Not snap peas (though those are great, as well), but rather proper English peas. (You’ll be happy to know that I’m off of the Spanish accent, but less happy to hear that I cannot say “English peas” without putting on a bloody horrible British accent.) The fresh green peas here in New York are gorgeous—plump, firm and cheery. Kinda like my bum, but green. (Groan.)
Peas are well loved in my house. Well they are by the big one; the little one accepts them, which is better than most vegetables. As a result, we eat peas frequently, so frequently that the kids have started requesting handfuls of the frozen kind. I hand them over reluctantly, insisting that they don’t eat too many. (I imagine that they’ll become like those bead-stuffed beanie babies.) “Wait for dinner!” I nag. But they don’t care. Honestly, I’m not sure why I bother since a frozen pea isn’t that different from a frozen pea that’s been steamed.
But fresh peas are a whole different game. This they learned the other night while feasting on this lemony pasta tossed with shaved asparagus, fresh peas, fresh ricotta and mint.
“Sweet?” Suddenly my 5-year-old sounded like a tween. (More and more this is par for the course. What’s up with that?) At least is was in favor of dinner.
“These peas are so swwwweeeeeetttttt!”
“They are, aren’t they?! It’s because they’re fresh!”
I couldn’t help but nerd out:
“Should we do a taste test and compare fresh peas to frozen ones?”
My 5-year-old is a nerd, too. (It’s one of his many irresistible qualities.)
“Yea! Let’s do an experiment.”
I pulled out the frozen peas and we got to the hard work of comparing the two. First we noticed how the fresh ones come in (inedible) pods. (“Did the frozen ones grow in pods, too?”)
Then we tasted straight raw and straight frozen. Frozen had a more palatable texture—fresh are chalky before cooked—but barely a taste.
Then, the moment of truth. The head-to-head battle we’d all been waiting for: Steamed frozen peas versus steamed fresh peas.
I was not the ref. (I knew the outcome would be favorable to me.) Still, fresh peas won.
(Victory is ours!)
In case you’re wondering, the Hungry Baby, even in all his pickiness, joined in the fun. He still thinks that peas are just acceptable. Whatever. What does HE know.
If your English peas are plump, firm and cheery, too, tell us, love: What are you making with them?
Me? I’ve made this pasta dish two weeks in a row now.
Lemony Pasta with Ricotta, Asparagus and Peas
(can be adapted for kids 6+ mos)*
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
About 1/2 lb (or 1 cup) fresh, shelled English peas
1 lb of your favorite pasta (long or cut, both work)
1 bunch of asparagus, cleaned
Fresh ricotta (use homemade for best results; you can substitute store-bought)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
Chicken broth, optional (you can substitute water)
Olive oil (use highest quality for best results)
Fresh mint, chopped
1. Create an ice water bath and set aside. Bring one gallon of water seasoned with 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over medium heat. Add fresh peas and cook for 1-2 minutes, until they are bright green and just cooked through. Using a hand-held strainer or slotted spoon, scoop the peas out of the pot and into the ice water bath. Return the pot of salted water to medium heat and bring back to a boil. In the meantime, strain peas from the ice bath and set aside.
2. When the salted water returns to a boil, add pasta, stir and then begin measuring cooking time; for al dente, cook pasta 2-3 minutes fewer than indicated on the package. Drain the pasta, saving a cup of pasta cooking water, but do not rinse. Set aside. (You can also use pasta that you’ve cooked in advance. Here’s how to perfectly pre-cook pasta.)
3. In the meantime, shave the asparagus: Hold the end of a stalk and run a vegetable peeler towards the tip over and over. (Each stroke creates a long, thin strip of asparagus.) Repeat with every stalk. Set aside.
4. Return pasta to the pot and set over medium-low heat. Add the ricotta cheese. Thin the cheese into a sauce like consistency using the pasta cooking water; how much you use will depend on how thick and creamy your ricotta is (there is a lot of variation with fresh ricotta). Add the lemon zest and lemon juice. If your sauce is not the consistency you want even after you’ve added all of the pasta cooking water and lemon juice, you can add regular water or broth. (I prefer the flavor of chicken broth, but use water if you want to keep this vegetarian.)
5. Add the peas and shaved asparagus. Stir to distribute evenly. Finish with a glug of olive and oil and season with salt to taste.
6. Remove pasta from the heat and finish with a handful of chopped mint and grated Parmesan. Stir to combine. Serve.
*Note: This is super easy to adapt for very beginner eaters. Simply puree the final dish—or just a combination of fresh veggies and some ricotta cheese—and share! When serving to children already managing soft finger foods, be sure to cut pasta and asparagus into age appropriate bites.