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Peas, please! 3 fresh pea dishes to celebrate the end of winter

3 pea and asparagus salad with ginger dressing. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
3 pea and asparagus salad with ginger dressing. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

In many parts of the country, fresh spring peas are already in the markets. (The season starts on the West Coast and extends through mid-summer on the East Coast and Midwest.)

This is cause for celebration. Bright green, sweet, and thoroughly versatile, peas signal the end of winter.

If you’ve only ever eaten frozen or canned peas, you need to get some fresh peas immediately. While frozen peas have seriously improved over the years, there is nothing quite like the sweet, fresh green flavor blast of a just-shucked pea.

Peas are loaded with protein, fiber, and good amounts of Vitamin A, C, and B-6. You can use fresh peas — English peas, sugar snap peas, and snow peas — raw, steamed, sauteed, stir-fried, mashed, blended, etc in spring soup, pasta dishes, salads, sauces, egg dishes and more.

Shopping and storing fresh peas: As soon as peas are shelled they lose their vibrancy and sweetness and become starchy. It’s best to shop for them at farmer’s markets. You can keep them in the shell in the refrigerator for a few days until you’re ready to cook. English peas should look plump and full (this indicates the peas are good-sized) and have bright green, crisp and firm pods.

Snow and snap peas should also be crisp and bright green. Yellow pods indicate that peas have gotten old and are no longer fresh.

Types of peas:

Bright green, sweet, and thoroughly versatile, peas signal the end of winter. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

English peas (also called green peas, garden peas or sweet peas) have tough pods and are best shelled. The peas, fat and green, are sweet and can be eaten raw, sauteed, stir-fried or steamed. They make a delicious soup. When you shell English peas, you should always keep the pods; they make a delicate, sweet, pea-flavored stock when you gently simmer them with water, an onion, carrot and celery.

  • Snow peas (also sometimes called Holland peas) are characterized by their flat pods with small peas pushing against the pods. You want to look for peas that have small shapes because as they mature they tend to lose their sweetness. They are generally stringless (meaning you don’t have to remove the ‘string’ at the top of the pea) and are very tender. The whole pea is edible and often used in stir-fries, sautes and salads. They can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days but will lose their sweetness quickly.
  • Sugar snap peas are entirely edible or you can shell the peas out of the pod. They have a great crunchy, crisp texture and sweet flavor. If eating them whole, you’ll want to snap off the top and remove the ‘string’ from the stem end. Look for pods that are fat and bright green with dry stems. If the pods seem loose, it indicates the peas are probably not as fresh as you’d like them to be. Use sugar snap peas as soon as you buy them.
  • Pea shoots are the curly tendrils that grow on the pea plant and are especially tender and non-fibrous in the spring. The leaves are sweet and totally edible, and can be used raw in salads and as a garnish or stir-fried or sauteed. One of my favorite ways to cook pea pods (called dòu miáo in Mandarin) is in a hot wok with fresh ginger, scallions and a touch of soy sauce.
  • Here are three new spring recipes — a salad, pasta dish and easy crostini— that show off the pea’s versatility.

    3 pea and asparagus salad with ginger dressing

    3 pea and asparagus salad with ginger dressing. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    This salad is all about color (green, green, green), contrasting textures (crunchy and soft) and flavor (it’s spring!). Three different types of peas are used (yes, you can use only one or two types if you like): Snap peas are lightly sauteed with ginger and soy sauce; snow peas are very thinly sliced and served raw. Asparagus is lightly steamed, and the whole salad is finished with a sprinkling of raw English peas. A simple ginger and scallion dressing tops it off. The salad can be made ahead of time, but don’t add the dressing until 10 minutes or so before you’re ready to serve it.

    This salad makes an ideal spring main course (served with warm crusty bread) for lunch or a first or side dish.

    Serves 2 to 4.

    Ingredients

    • ½ pound asparagus, ends trimmed
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
    • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh ginger cut into very thin long strips
    • 1 cup snap peas with strings removed
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
    • ¾ cup snow peas, cut into very thin long strips
    • ⅓ cup raw English peas, optional


    The ginger dressing

    • 1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
    • 1 scallion, finely chopped
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon rice wine or white wine vinegar
    • Salt and pepper to taste


    Instructions

    1. Cook the asparagus: Bring a large skillet filled with water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 3 to 6 minutes, depending on the thickness and freshness of the asparagus, until almost tender. Drain, refresh under cold running water, and drain again. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces and set aside.
    2. Cook the snap peas: In a medium skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and cook for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the peas and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and cook, stirring, for another minute. Remove from heat.
    3. Make the ginger dressing: In a small bowl mix the ginger, scallion, oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
    4. To serve: Place the sauteed snap peas on the bottom of a medium platter. Scatter the asparagus piece around the peas. Top with the snow peas. Spoon the raw English peas over everything and drizzle with the dressing.

    Farfalle with peas, pancetta and leeks

    Farfalle with peas, pancetta and leeks. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    You can use any shape of pasta you like with this spring-forward dish. And you can easily omit the pancetta making this a vegetarian dish. Or omit the cream to make it dairy free.

    Serves 4.

    Ingredients

    • 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
    • 2 leeks, white and light green section only, sliced lengthwise, washed and thinly sliced
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
    • 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced, about ½ cup
    • 2 cups shelled English peas, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw if using frozen)
    • ½ cup heavy cream, optional
    • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    • 1 pound farfalle or your favorite pasta shape
    • About ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese


    Instructions

    1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over low heat. Add the leeks, salt, pepper, and half the thyme and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for another 5 minutes. The pancetta should start to get slightly crispy. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the cream, if using, and the lemon zest and remaining thyme and cook over low heat for another 2 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the directions, about 8 to 14 minutes, depending on the variety or shape, stirring frequently.
    3. Reserving 3 tablespoons of the pasta water, drain the pasta. Add the reserved pasta water to the sauce in the skillet and heat over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pasta to a serving bowl or plate. Add the pea and pancetta sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.

    Pea and mint puree crostini with goat cheese and walnuts

    Pea and mint puree crostini with goat cheese and walnuts. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

    This colorful crostini makes a great first course or lunch dish alongside or on top of a green salad.

    Serves 2 to 4.

    Ingredients

    The mint-pea puree:

    • 1 cup English peas, fresh or frozen
    • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 teaspoon olive oil


    The toast, goat cheese and walnuts:

    • 2 large slices crusty bread cut in half, or two 4-inch pieces baguette cut in half lengthwise
    • ¼ cup soft goat cheese, at room temperature
    • ¼ cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • ¼ cup raw English peas (fresh or frozen; no need to thaw if using frozen)
    • Few fresh mint leaves


    Instructions

    1. To make the puree: Bring a small pot of water to boil. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and drain again. Place the pre-cooked peas in a blender or food processor along with the mint, salt, pepper and oil and blend. Taste for seasoning. The mash can be made a day ahead of time; cover and refrigerate.
    2. Toast the bread in a toaster or under a broiler until golden brown. Spread each piece of toast with some goat cheese. Spread some of the pea-mint puree on top. Drizzle the top with salt and pepper, some oil, and a few chopped walnuts. Sprinkle the raw peas on top.


    More pea recipes:

    • Find recipes for pea pizza, braised chicken with leeks and peas, pea pesto, and summer pea and lettuce soup here.
    • Summer pea and lettuce soup:


    Watch on YouTube.

    This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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