Worth shelling out for: Skye Gyngell cooks with the first, sweet peas of the season

Skye Gyngell dreams of sitting in the garden popping peas straight from the pod – and the soups, salads (and even curries) to come...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

This week I ordered a box of young, sweet peas from the markets in Italy. It's a week or two before the season starts here, but I've been dreaming about all the things that can be done with them, and I can't wait to start. I have sown three to four plants in our garden, but their vibrantly green, fine, curly shoots are only now beginning to appear.

There is nothing nicer than sitting in the garden eating peas straight from the pod – they are at their sweetest then, as sugar soon turns to starch once picked.

In England, we seem wedded to plainly boiled peas with a sprig of mint, whereas in France they prefer them slowly cooked with butter and one or two strips of ham, with a couple of shredded lettuce leaves stirred in. Both versions can be delicious; buy peas in their pod if possible, and shell them just before cooking.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com

Pea and potato curry

Simple and easy to prepare, this is a deeply flavourful and fragrant curry.

Serves 4

1 tbsp corn or sunflower oil
11/2 tsp toasted ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp roasted ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds, roasted and crushed
2 sticks of cinnamon
3 garlic cloves, crushed
10 fresh curry leaves
3 green chillies, seeds removed and chopped
2 yellow onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 bunch of coriander, stems and roots finely chopped, leaves reserved
5 medium-sized desiree or Cyprus potatoes, peeled and sliced into chunks
20 ripe, small, plump tomatoes
1 cup of water
150g/5oz freshly shelled peas
3 generous tbsp thick, plain yoghurt

Pour the oil into a large, heavy-based pan, place over a medium heat and add the spices, garlic, curry leaves and chillies, a pinch of salt and cook for two to three minutes. Add the onion, turn the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.

Now add the chopped coriander, stir to combine, then add the potatoes and tomatoes, and pour over the water. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add the peas and cook until soft. Stir in the yoghurt and coriander leaves. Season with a little more salt and serve.

Rice, pancetta and pea soup

Serves 4

50ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
A small bunch of mint, leaves only
2 slices of pancetta, rind removed and finely sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g/31/2oz short-grain white rice
100ml/31/2fl oz dry white wine
1 litre/13/4 pints chicken stock
150g/5oz shelled peas
100g/31/2oz freshly grated Parmesan
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
A little extra-virgin olive oil to finish

Warm a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat then pour in the oil and add the onion, garlic, mint leaves and pancetta. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Turn the heat up slightly and add the rice, stirring well to combine. Pour in the wine and allow to reduce by a third. Add the chicken stock, turn the heat once again to low, place a lid on the pan and cook for 20 minutes, by which time the rice should be tender. If the stock evaporates before the rice is cooked, simply add a little water.

Once the rice is tender, add the peas and cook for 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning – it will need salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the Parmesan and parsley, stir once more and ladle into warm soup plates. Drizzle with a little oil and serve with warm, crusty bread and a simple green salad.

Pea and spinach salad

I like to serve this simple spring salad with some of the beautiful young, tart goat's cheeses available at this time of year.

Serves 4

200g/7oz young spinach leaves
The zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon
150g/5oz shelled peas
2 sprigs of mint, leaves only
A handful of mixed young salad leaves, washed and gently patted dry
60g/21/2oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the spinach and place in a medium-sized saucepan. Place over a medium heat. Cook, stirring once or twice, until it has just wilted: this will take very little time; it is important that the spinach does not overcook. Drain in a colander and set aside until it cools to room temperature. Once cool, press firmly between your hands to extract all the water and place in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and squeeze over half of the lemon juice and a little of the olive oil. Dress thoroughly.

Now boil a small pot of well-salted water. Once the water is boiling vigorously, add the peas and cook for three minutes. Drain and allow to cool slightly, then add to the dressed spinach. Toss together.

Put the mint leaves and salad leaves in a bowl and dress with the remaining lemon juice, olive oil and Parmesan, scatter over the lemon zest and toss lightly. Add the leaves to the spinach and peas, toss lightly again and serve straight away.