Sometimes it's hard to tell exactly what season it is in Los Angeles, what with our permanently sunny skies and mostly blissful weather. Which is yet another good reason to frequent the many farmers markets we have, since one look at their loaded tables will tell you. Right now many farmers are bringing in fresh peas and fava beans, the boxes and bins filled with small mountains of the green vegetables – more verdant than our hills are right now, and probably for a long time to come.
The current prize among the greenery? English peas. These sweet, plump peas are only in season for a few weeks in the spring, before it gets properly hot, so look for them now, when they're first showing up in the stalls. These are not your mother's idea of peas, but tiny orbs of springtime, brilliant in dishes or just to eat out of hand like candy.
English peas are best when cooked very little, in dishes that showcase their subtle, sweet flavor. You can grill them in their pods like edamame, as Andrew Kirchner does at Tar & Roses in Santa Monica, or make them into a stunning soup thatched with Parmesan crisps, as Thomas Keller has done at The French Laundry (see p. 37, The French Laundry Cookbook), or just eat them raw in salads, say with a handful of lettuces, some smoked salmon and a dill vinaigrette. Or you could try one of these five particularly worthy recipes.
English pea soup with mint from Andrew Carmellini
New York City-based chef and cookbook author Andrew Carmellini offers up a simple yet sophisticated pea soup, showcasing fresh peas that are quickly cooked then pureed and combined with fresh mint and creme fraiche. The lovely, velvety soup can be made ahead, then reheated (or not, I suppose) and served with croutons. A lovely light lunch – or maybe a wonderful accompaniment to a roasted lamb dinner.
Orecchiette carbonara with peas from Suzanne Goin
From Suzanne Goin's first classic cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, this is Goin's take on pasta carbonara, reworked with orecchiette, the little ear-shaped pasta making perfect bowls for the English peas. Goin adds both pancetta and bacon, garlic and onions and Parmesan and eggs – and for a bit of spring, English peas as well as pea shoots. Is this spa food? No indeed, but it's a lovely riff on a traditional favorite pasta dish.
Deborah Madison's peas with baked ricotta and breadcrumbs
It should not surprise you that Deborah Madison, author of many wonderful cookbooks on vegetables, has a terrific dish that showcases fresh peas. In this one, she bakes ricotta (very easy to make at home, by the way) with breadcrumbs and olive oil, then serves the baked cheese with English peas that have been lightly sauteed with shallots, sage and lemon. Hearty, yet not overly so, and a creative side dish, or serve it with salad for a whole meal.
Crushed peas with poached salmon from Martha Stewart
English peas and salmon are a fantastic combination, not just because they're both light and healthful, but because they're crazy colorful when you juxtapose the bright greens and pinks together on a plate. Martha Stewart's creative recipe comes in three fairly easy parts: you poach the fish in a court bouillon; make a herb vinaigrette, also tinged bright green from basil; and then you cook the peas and mash them with the vinaigrette. No reason to mash them if you'd prefer not to: the whole thing is going to be gorgeous either way.
Daniel Mattern's crostone of English peas with prosciutto
Back when chef Daniel Mattern was at Ammo, he gave us pretty spectacular English pea recipe, in which the fresh peas are puréed with green garlic (also in season right now), then spread over toast and topped with some prosciutto, grated Pecorino and a poached egg. It's a wonderful recipe, which would make a great breakfast, or a pretty wonderful Easter brunch dish, now that we think of it. Or if you're lazy and would rather have Mattern make this for you, the chef has it on his menu at his own fantastic restaurant, Cooks County.