Thursday, March 12, 2009
Peas, Glorious Peas!
It’s spring again. Little nubs of growth have popped up on the fingerling ends tree branches. Irises taunt us with their mangy beards. Birds prance and sing and act-a-fool over thoughts of passionate nest making. And at the farmers market, delicate flavors or early spring come peeking out between the masked flavors of winter.
The flagship for these troops is asparagus. Sometime in March they pop their closed-fist tips out of firm frosted soil and we are blessed with a grassy green ancient veggie until almost June. Every week I buy $2 bunches from the lady who sells exclusively asparagus making creamed soups, adding into carbonara pasta, sautéing with peas and mint, grilling, and even blanching elegant little log-cabin stacks next to eggs for brunch. Alas! Nature is perfectly timed so that just as I am sick-and-tired of these green spears and I can pee stinky no longer, the warmer weather smacks them down and they disappear for another 6 months.
My second omen are the sugar snap peas, dressed in plastic green baskets with little bucket hat foliage tips. I eat these by the dozen as a mid-morning snack, crunchy and raw, amazed at the balance between the saccrine pod and the bitter green babies tucked inside. Where there are peas, there are pea tendrils (great sautéed) and sweet pea blossoms ($5 will buy you a heap in fuchsia, soft pink, and white that will perfume your pad for days).
If you really want to splurge, grab a bag of English peas that have been shelled. These, I suppose, are related to the guys you buy frozen, but bear no resemblance in flavor. They are a stunning addition to pasta, sidled up next to a piece of ham, or just steamed and buttered. If you’ve got time on your hand, grab a bag of fava beans and spend your Sunday like a Southern lady shucking, boiling, and shucking again for little thumbs of bitter beans that are truly the prize of the season.
Other delights to be on the lookout for are faintly orange Meyer lemons, spearmint, delicate baby lettuces, new potatoes, purple-tipped scallions, green garlic shoots, chives, Bloomsdale spinach and of course, strawberries.
Follow the calendar and use the seasons as a guide for how to cook! All these subtle flavors of spring meld together perfectly for almost any dish… the green garlic shoots never overpowering the rustic funk of peas or the bright bite of mint. And as the weather warms, bold flavors hum and intensify until in August we are sweating and delirious with the intoxicating bounty of red blushed peaches, potent red onions, eye-rolling tomatoes, sour plums, and sweet purple basil. Wait for it. Enjoy the journey that is spring. It’s worth it.