Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Peas and Love

Like so many kids, when I was little I convinced myself that I didn't like certain foods. Lentils were the first to get the axe, despite actually being delicious and eventually becoming one of my favorite ingredients. But as a kid they seemed like a lumpy brown mess that was out to get me and ruin my lunch. Peas suffered a similar fate after spending years as a part of the freezer section's Axis of Evil, along with carrots and lima beans (which by the way, seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth--seriously, when was the last time you saw them?). Every time peas appeared in a meal they became my main focus, distracting me from whatever tasty dish I should have been enjoying. Cast off to the side like the lepers of the vegetable world, I'd carefully roll them to the edge of my plate with a fork and line them in a row. I reasoned that so long as I was polite in my distaste for these shrivly masses I couldn't possibly be chastised for not eating all my food (besides, I saw my dad out of the corner of my eye quietly doing the same thing).

While peas never quite made the comeback that lentils did in my book, I did come to like them as an adult. I was won over by a simple and common Spanish preparation of peas with garlic, smoked paprika and serrano ham, but then again, what wouldn't taste great with company like that? It was only in the last couple of years when I familiarized myself with what real, fresh spring peas tasted like that I came to see what I was missing. The key to anything we don't like as children (other than general pickiness) is usually that it hasn't been prepared in a way that appeals to us, or more commonly, that someone unfamiliar with the ingredient cooked it into sunmission. Peas, like brussels sprouts and cabbage before them have suffered from overcooking, which leads to an unappealing texture, bad smell and wrinkly skin. Whether fresh or frozen, peas don't need much cooking and should remain plump and bright green. That way their texture, color and natural flavor are preserved, and we all get to enjoy the sweetness that many cooks value them for.

I like to leave delicious spring peas as untouched as possible when they are the focus of a dish. This week I made great spring pea tortellini using wonton skins, one of my favorite stuffed pasta shortcuts. The filling was a simple puree of blanched peas, ricotta, olive oil and lemon juice, all fairly mellow ingredients that let the peas shine. There are no overpowering herbs, and the lemon juice (and zest) brighten up the flavor ever so slightly. I like using them in soup, with a simple broth, and in this case a light lemon broth made with good chicken stock and lemon juice. It's a great compliment to the filling of the tortellini, and a lovely bright spring dish, but a regular old chicken soup or plain broth would do just fine. If you're not in the mood for soup, these are great just tossed with butter and topped with grated parmesan. I even topped the soup with some parmesan and sprinkled some in the broth. This is a great "intro to peas" for anyone that doesn't like them, and if that fails, just let me know and I'll make sure to get you the recipe that brought me over to the dark side!

Spring Pea Tortellini

1 10 oz package frozen peas (about 2 cups if you're using fresh)
3 heaping Tbsps  ricotta cheese (I like part skim for this)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
juice and zest of half a lemon
1 package wonton skins

1. Blanche peas in salted, boiling water until done, but still crisp and bright green (only 1-2 minutes if using frozen). Add peas to food processor along with ricotta, olive oil, salt lemon juice and zest. Pulse mixture until coarse and blended.

2. Fill each wonton skin with a scant 1/2 tablespoon of the pea mixture and fold closed (see proper tortellini folding technique
here). Boil in salted water, chicken broth or soup until tender, about 2 minutes. Enjoy!



The Food Hunter said...

Looks awesome. How can anyone not like peas cooked this way.

taste traveller said...

I look forward to fresh peas more than any other veggies. I'll make a note to try this when the peas make it to my local market.