Worth shelling out: Mark Hix celebrates summer's most versatile vegetable – the humble pea
Saturday 04 June 2011
It's always refreshing to see fresh British green vegetables popping up in the shops and food markets at this time of year, although I confess that I wish that our short asparagus season lasted for another month or so.
I always associate peas with British cuisine, although you do see them all over the world in various forms – both fresh and frozen. And I'm always amazed at how good frozen peas are and I'm not at all embarrassed to admit that there's always a bag in my deep freeze. The problem with fresh peas is that unless you pick them yourself, you don't quite know how long they have been knocking around for and once cooked they might not turn out quite as sweet and juicy as you expected.
We always offer fresh peas as a bar or pre-dinner snack in the restaurants when they are in season and it brings back childhood memories of podding them in the garden on the deckchair with my grandmother.
Chilled pea and fennel soup
I bought some lovely young fennel from Tony Booth, who has now moved out of Borough Market to the food market at Tower Bridge. As well as the bulbs, I've also used the stalks and fern in this soup and shredded the stalk to make a salad garnish – and just one stem of fennel will be enough for 4 good servings with the peas.
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stem of baby or young fennel (or a couple if they are small)
1.2 litres vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
350g freshly podded peas (or frozen ones will do)
1tsp cider vinegar
1tbsp rapeseed oil
Cut the fennel bulb away from the stalks and finely shred it with a sharp knife or on a mandolin and put to one side. Separate the ferns from the stalks and just keep a few of the ferns for garnish. Roughly chop the stalks, then heat the oil in a pan and gently cook the onion and stalks for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the stock, season and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes.
Reserve about 60-70g of the peas and cook in boiling salted water with a little sugar, then drain, cool under the tap and mix with the shredded fennel. Add the rest of the peas to the soup and simmer for another 6-7 minutes or until they are tender (frozen peas will only need a couple of minutes once they come back to a simmer).
Blend in a liquidiser until smooth, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Pass through a sieve if you wish (some blenders do a better job than others) then leave to cool and adjust the consistency with a little more stock if necessary.
To serve, mix the cider vinegar and rapeseed oil with the peas, fennel and a few ferns and season. Pour the soup into shallow soup bowls and pile the pea and fennel salad up in the centre.
Grilled salmon with pea and leek broth
A piece of wild salmon or sea trout freshly grilled is great just simply served as a starter or main with a light broth of peas and leeks. If you have made the pea soup recipe (see above) you can just use a little of that thinned down with some fish stock.
4 salmon fillets weighing about 150-160g (100g for starters) boned with the skin on or off
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
For the broth
Use the pea and fennel soup recipe thinned down with a little fish stock
8 or so young leeks, trimmed, washed and halved
60-70g or so of podded peas, cooked
A couple of good knobs of butter
Cook the leeks in boiling salted water, then drain. Heat the broth and add the leeks and peas; season to taste, then stir in the butter. The broth should be single-cream consistency; just add a little stock if you need to.
Meanwhile, preheat a ribbed griddle or heavy-based frying pan, season the salmon and lightly brush the pan with oil. Cook the salmon for 2-3 minutes on each side with the skin side down first, keeping it a little pink.
To serve, spoon the leeks, peas and broth into deep serving plates and place the salmon on top.
Deep-fried pea pods with minted pea mayonnaise
You may recall that a couple of years back I decided to deep-fry some broad bean pods instead of tossing them on to the compost – and very delicious they were too. Well I'm still on my Love Food Hate Waste campaign and I think that if you love food and shopping and growing then it's natural not to want to waste a thing. If you have nice young peas in their pods, the pods themselves will make great crispy snacks and you will get more out of the pods than the actual peas themselves. If you wish, you can also spice up the flour with some ground cumin or paprika.
A couple of handfuls of pea pods, shelled
120-150g self-raising flour (preferably Doves Farm gluten-free)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
Cornish sea salt for sprinkling
For the mayonnaise
50g well-cooked peas
10-12 mint leaves, washed
3-4tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
First, make the mayonnaise. Blend the peas and mint in a liquidiser with a little water until it's smooth. Mix with enough of the mayonnaise to taste; season.
Season the flour well and add the suggested spices above if you wish. Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.
Have three bowls ready, one for the seasoned flour, one for the milk and the third for the finished pea pods. Coat the pods in the flour, shaking off any excess, then pass them through the milk and again through the flour.
Deep fry in batches, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon on to some kitchen paper and sprinkle with Cornish sea salt and serve immediately with the mayonnaise.
Pea and spinach curry
This makes a lovely spring or summer vegetable accompaniment, starter or part of a cold buffet.
400g cooked peas, fresh or frozen
A couple of handfuls of young spinach leaves, washed and dried
60ml of ghee or butter
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tbsp finely grated root ginger
1 green chilli, sliced
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp ground turmeric
2tsp ground coriander
Seeds of 6 cardamom pods
¼tsp cayenne pepper
¼tsp ground black pepper
500ml vegetable stock
2tbsp chopped coriander
Salt to taste
Heat the butter or ghee in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the onions for 3-4 minutes until soft, stirring every so often until lightly coloured.
Add the other spices and continue cooking on a low heat for a couple more minutes. Add the stock and salt, cover with water and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the peas and spinach and simmer for another 8-10 minutes, or until the sauce is just coating the vegetables. Stir in the coriander, remove from the heat and serve with basmati rice.
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