Although balmier weather and longer days clue me in to Spring, the season doesn't officially begun until the day I spot fresh garden peas at the farmers market. Although I take advantage of frozen peas to enjoy the legumes year-round, there's simply nothing that can replace the toothsome snap of a freshly-shelled English pea.
English peas — also known as shell peas and garden peas — enjoy a short-lived season during late Spring and early Summer, and are at their best in May. For peas that are sweet and crisp, start by looking for shiny, firm, brightly-colored pods that feel swollen and heavy. When cooking with English peas, buy much more than you think you will need, as one pound of peas will only equate to roughly one cup of shelled peas. While it's ideal to eat garden peas as soon as they're picked, they can keep for up to three days when wrapped tightly and placedin the coolest part of the refrigerator. For more pointers on preparing them, read more.
Unlike sugar snap peas or snow peas, the fibrous pods of English peas cannot be eaten (although they can be used to enhance the flavor of vegetable stock). Shell English peas immediately before they're to be cooked: Break off the stem and pull the fibrous string down the length of the pod. Press each pod between your thumbs and forefingers to open, pushing out the individual peas. Rinse and drain the peas, discarding pods, stems, and strings. Prepare them in a multitude of ways:
- Boil peas in 1/4 inch of simmering water for 3 to 4 minutes until crisp and tender, then toss into your favorite warm pasta or pasta salad.
- Add variety to a Springtime salad by tossing in just-boiled peas.
- Simmer peas in boiling water alongside prosciutto and fresh herbs.
- For a flavorful, light side dish, sauté shelled peas in olive oil with torn mint leaves.
- Treat your family to spiced pea fritters.
Have you cooked with English peas before? What are your favorite ways to use them?