I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
There is a ritual to eating peas. Prick one, tiny, round green orb with the tine of a fork. If you have the talent and if you have the patience, you can slide one single sphere onto each tine. This may take the use of your fingers. A very delicate pressure placed on the tender pea so as not to crush even one. POP the skin bursts allowing the thick creamy meat to ooze out and you must start the process over again after licking the sweetness off of your fingertips. Oh maybe a double row, if one is thoroughly daring. Or three. How many peas will each tine hold? Then admire your handiwork. Show off just a little. Wave the fork around a bit; don’t worry if the food gets cold. Peas are delightful cool, as well. Build up to the final movement, the denouement. Expectations high. Slide the fork between eager lips, place the rows of peas upon the tongue. Very gently, mouth closed but lightly, then softly slide those peas off of the fork.
Or by the spoonful. Peas swimming in salty butter, dusted with a shower of fine dried mint crushed between your fingertips. Or just a light hand of fleur de sel. Teaspoon? Tablespoon? Soupspoon? Pick out any other vegetables. Push the tiny cubes of carrot off to the side of the plate; today we are in a round, green mood. Grasp the spoon tightly in one hand and press the bowl to the surface of the plate. Tilt ever-so slightly towards you then, using the pad of your thumb, push as many peas as will fit into the bowl of your spoon into the upturned, expectant utensil. Coordinate this perfectly with the graceful movement of the spoon itself, lifting, a slow, gentle, sweeping curve, as the spoon is filled with peas. And you are ready to eat.
Flicking peas off the tip of a spoon at each other across the diningroom table. Catapult. Better with mashed potatoes, come to think of it.
A dog pushing one single fresh pea around the kitchen floor with his snout.
A colander filled with pods. Pop open the pods one by one with a sharp, satisfying snap. Nestle the pod lengthwise in the palm of your slightly cupped hand. Using only one thumb pressed down underneath the bottom pea, push the thumb upwards in one sweeping, determined, unflinching movement. Pretty maids all in a row. Smell the sweet pea fragrance released. The scent of springtime. A sharp staccato as they tumble into the bowl.
Begin all over again.
One escapes the procession. Jumps ship, a renegade pea. Breaks the cadence, the rhythmic lull of the afternoon. Slips between fingers, hops across countertop, bounces onto the floor. Dog stands waiting, at the ready for just such an event. Curious, the snout tips forward, sniffing this odd thing. A gentle nudge sends the pea moving. A snort and a second nudge and a third. Pink tongue whips out, lashes the pea, pea disappears then reappears as dog spits it back out. And repeats, a game of cat and mouse.
We lived very simply – but with all the essentials of life well understood and provided for
– hot baths, cold champagne, new peas and old brandy.
- Winston Churchill, “The Last Lion” by William Manchester, 1993
Canned, frozen or fresh? Springtime peas come in early summer, heaped up in a jumble on wooden market stalls. Wooing with their brilliant color, the color of apples and emeralds and gingham curtains hung in a young girl’s room. Against her will. Green the color of Girl Scout uniforms.
Amidst the golden peaches, ruby nectarines, neon strawberries. Hiding their treasures in a tough cocoon like coy women hiding curves and femininity behind wraps of wool and fur.
Risi e bisi. An Italian summer, rice simmered slowly, the scent of crisp white wine, a dusting of Parmesan. Peas al dente.
Lamb navarin. A French springtime ritual, young lamb, meat melting under the fork, tiny baby carrots, elegant pearl onions, tender potatoes, thick, rich broth. Spring peas.
Samosas. Indian heat, creamy potatoes spilling out of crisp, flaky wrappings, flecked with bright green.
A cup of icy frozen peas, frosty orbs in a halo of brume. Tumbling into flames, the heated skillet with a sizzle, coming to life. Violent, hard, heat into something soft and tender and sweet.
The fog as thick as pea soup.
A simple, homey yet elegant dish, the perfect light summer meal, Risi e Bisi – Rice and Peas – is a classic of northern Italian home cooking and the perfect way to highlight summer’s fresh pea bounty. This is my own untraditional version. Mint adds a wonderfully fresh touch; roasted cherry tomatoes add a flavorful, sweet balance and a pop of color to the dish. Use frozen peas to capture a warm Italian day in the middle of the winter.
JAMIE’S MINTED RICE & PEAS
1 small onion or shallot, finely diced
3 Tbs (45 g) unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 ½ - 2 cups young, tiny sweet peas, fresh or frozen
About 5 cups (1 ½ litres) chicken or vegetable stock, warm
9 oz (250 g) round rice for risotto, Arborio, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli
Handful of chopped fresh mint or a dusting of dried
Finely grated Parmesan cheese to taste or chopped or crumbled Greek feta, if preferred
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Firm cherry tomatoes, about 4 or 5 per person
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 peeled and crushed (not chopped) garlic cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Begin by roasting the cherry tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Stir together 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar in a glass baking dish or pie plate. Season with a little salt and pepper and add 2 peeled and crushed garlic cloves. Toss the cherry tomatoes in the flavored oil and roast for about 20 minutes or until the skins are split and shriveled and the tomatoes start to show signs of roasting (a bit golden). If you like, turn on the overhead grill for the last couple of minutes to color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while preparing the risotto.
Prepare the Risotto: Heat half the butter and the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and, stirring, cook for a couple of minutes until softened and just starting to turn golden.
Add the peas and a few tablespoons of the warm stock and cook for a few minutes just to defrost the frozen peas or up to 10 minutes for fresh peas until tender.
Add the rice and toss with the onion and peas until all the grains are coated in oil. Cook for a minute or two until the grains of rice become slightly translucent. Pour on two ladlefuls of broth and cook, stirring continuously and gently, until the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Continue cooking the risotto over medium low heat, adding 2 ladlefuls of broth at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of liquid to be almost absorbed before adding more broth. This should take between 20 and 25 minutes total cooking time from the moment the rice is added to the peas.
A few minutes before the rice is done, stir in a large handful of chopped fresh mint and the finely grated Parmesan or crumbled feta, more or less as you please. Taste and add a bit of salt only as needed – the stock and the cheese are both salty so taste to see if any additional salt is necessary. Add pepper.
When the risotto is finished, the rice should be meltingly tender, the risotto creamy and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and top with a bit more Parmesan, if desired. Serve with the warm roasted cherry tomatoes.