I started picking a few of my own fresh peas last week, and fresh peas straight from the pod have been one of my favourite veggies since childhood. Back then, our garden would yield a good supply and I still recall us sitting around Mom like a pack of urchins, shelling for what seemed forever. I did think it was nice having her help us, though; little did I realize she was there to prevent us from eating them all before they made it to the freezer.
Fresh Pea Salad
1 cup fresh mint leaves
2 dried dates, pitted
1/2 of a small serrano chili, stem removed
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice; zest from the lemon
1-1/2 cups fresh shelled peas
1 small head of romaine lettuce, cut into shreds
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
Fine-grain sea salt
To make the mint-date dressing, purée the mint, dates, chili, lemon juice and zest using a food processor or hand blender. Blend until uniform in texture. Thin it out by adding a tablespoon of water at a time until it is the consistency that you can drizzle (about 2-3 tbsp. in total). Taste and adjust for lemon and spiciness.
When you cook the peas, the key is to not overcook them. Fill a big bowl with ice water and set aside. Add about 6 cups of water to a medium sauce pan, add some salt (as you would pasta water) and bring the water to a boil. Add peas and cook for between 20-30 seconds. You want them just barely tender, so they will pop in your mouth. Quickly drain and dunk the peas into the bowl of ice water.
Just before serving, gently toss the peas, lettuce, and pumpkin seeds with about half of the dressing and a couple of pinches of salt. Taste and add more dressing if you like. Finish with a pinch or two of your favourite finishing salt. NOTE: If you end up with a dressing that is too spicy for your tastes, tame it with a dollop of plain yogurt. If you know you are sensitive to spiciness, you can always remove the seeds and veins from the chili in future versions. Serves 2-4.
Gnocchi with Culatello & Fresh Peas
500g. pkg. potato gnocchi (or use home-made)
1 cup fresh peas (frozen can be used in a pinch)
100 g. culatello or good quality pancetta, thickly sliced and cut into cubes
Small handful of fresh mint leaves
1 or 2 crushed, finely chopped cloves of garlic
Butter for frying
Salt and pepper to taste
Have everything ready, as gnocchi cooks very fast. Cook gnocchi in plenty of salted boiling water, and drain as soon as first few start rising to the surface. Before you put gnocchi into the water, add a good dollop of butter to a well-seasoned cast-iron frying pan (or equivalent pan). Add culatello (a wonderful Italian air-dried ham) to the butter once it is hot. Cook until culatello is starting to crisp, then add drained gnocchi to brown. Stir in peas and finish off by adding mint, finely chopped crushed garlic and parmesan to taste. Heat through and serve with a fresh salad. Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry people are.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.