Food: Get fresh

Summer straight from the pod

I have been meaning to write about peas all summer, and worry that it is getting too late. But there still seem to be plenty in the shops. Apart from some little bullets recently, most have been sweet, tender, and how I remember them when I used to sit, podding a paper bag- full, in a deck-chair in the garden. This chore would be preceded by those memorable words from Mum: "What are you doing, stuffing in on a lovely day like this? Get out in the garden and do these peas for me!" Sometimes a "darling" was attached, depending on her mood.

It wasn't such a chore. All it needed was a funny old colander to put the pods in, a blue and white-striped bowl for the peas, and a saunter past the mint patch on the way back to the kitchen. I ate a lot of peas as I was doing it, and would agree with Mum that you were never sure how many servings you would get out of your couple of pounds.

Today we are all much more lazy about domestic chores. That laziness was never so obvious to me as the first time I saw plastic-wrapped trays of shelled fresh peas on sale at Marks & Spencer. I have bought those peas myself. Mind you, I no longer have a deck-chair to sit in, nor a garden into which to be sent. Or, sadly, a Mum. But I would miss having the empty pods if I were making a green, summer-vegetable soup, or the Italian glory of pea dishes, risi e bisi.

Like most of you, I imagine, I am never without a half-used bag of frozen peas in the freezer. Mine are always getting tipped over, leaving a few rolling around and getting iced up and hiding in the cracks under the ice tray. Stray sweetcorn kernels get around a bit, too. I am very happy about using frozen peas, but they are nothing like the fresh ones.

They behave all right, and you don't spend ages waiting for them to turn into greeny-grey bullets. But the frozen pea is always ridiculously sweet. I had always imagined sugar might be added to make them toothsome, but I recently checked the packet and saw no sign of it. I don't mind the sweetness, but it can overtake the pea flavour - particularly if you decide to fashion a soup from them.

In my earlier cooking days, while fiddling around with mousses, I made one from peas - it could almost have been served with custard. Stick to serving frozen peas with old-fashioned roast duck (nicely overcooked, with a crisp skin) or cod with parsley sauce. Tasty autumn lamb cutlets, eaten with mint jelly out of a jar and fluffy mashed potatoes - to which you have added a big knob of butter, resting in a crater made with a spoon - are magnificent eaten with frozen peas and the telly on.

During one of my last holidays with my parents, I can remember eating, in the Dordogne, a cou d'oie farci aux petits pois. The peas were tinned, a dull-green colour, and very sweet. But, my word, they were delicious! I ponder now that the cou might have been out of a tin, too. And, to be honest, there was not much of it.

It was clearly an expensive ingredient, this stuffed goose's neck, as it was not on the menu regional, which my parents urged me eat with them. So a supplement was charged, and I was grudgingly forgiven - mostly by Mother, who was not paying the bill - for exploring my emerging trade. A stuffed goose's neck is not easy to come by, but a vacuum-packed Italian cotechino or zampone sausage could be a pleasing substitute. And I would not dream of making it with deck-chair peas.

Pigeon with peas, serves 4

Pigeon cooked with peas is as common as muck in the French cookery repertoire, but I think you have to use one of those relatively expensive pigeonneau for it to work properly. A wood pigeon is too strongly flavoured, and a little unsophisticated. Tinned peas are the right ones here.

4 French pigeons or squabs

a little softened butter

salt and pepper

4-5 slices of smoked pancetta or streaky bacon, cut into strips

approx 20 small shallots, peeled

1 small glass dry white wine

2 small or one large can of French petits-pois (look for a l'etuvee on the can), drained and rinsed

3-4 sprigs fresh tarragon

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C/gas mark 7. Put the pigeons in a roasting dish, smear with the butter and season. Roast for 10 minutes, basting a couple of times. Remove from the oven, tip the fat into a cast-iron casserole pot and put the pigeons aside to cool. Turn the oven down to 300F/150C/gas mark 2.

Gently cook the pancetta or bacon and the shallots in the decanted fat until well-gilded. Add the wine and reduce by half. Tip in the peas and bury the pigeons in them. Add a little more butter to the pigeon breast if you like. Submerge the tarragon, too. Simmer gently on the stove for a few minutes until you are sure things are hot. Then put a lid on and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve directly from the pot. I don't think you need to eat anything else with this.

Petit pois a la francaise, serves 4

I prefer to use fresh peas here, although you can get away with frozen and tinned. If you use frozen, squeeze a little lemon juice over them at the last moment. The mint is not, perhaps, entirely French, but I like it.

200g/7oz button onions, peeled

400g/14oz freshly shelled peas

75g/3oz butter

4-5 tbsp water or light chicken stock

a little salt and white pepper

2 little gem lettuces, shredded

pinch of sugar (only with fresh peas)

4-5 mint leaves, chopped (optional)

Put everything, except the mint, in a pan with a tight-fitting lid. Stew gently until the peas are tender, and most of the liquid and butter have been absorbed. Remove the lid towards the end if the mixture looks too wet (though I quite like the dish a bit sloppy).

Risi e bisi, serves 4

The recipe for this comes from Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cookbook (Macmillan). I have always followed this recipe exactly, and it performs beautifully. Signora Hazan says "Risi e bisi is not risotto with peas. It is a soup, although a very thick one." I adore this dish.

half an onion, peeled and chopped

50g/2oz butter

900g/2lb fresh peas (unshelled weight)

salt

900ml/112 pints broth (or light chicken stock)

200g/7oz arborio rice

2 tbsp chopped parsley

50g/2oz freshly grated Parmesan

Put the onion in a pan with the butter and fry over a medium heat until pale gold. Add the peas and salt and gently cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 700ml/114 pints of broth, cover, and cook at a very moderate boil for 10 minutes. Add the rice, parsley and the remaining broth, stir, cover, and cook at a slow boil for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender but al dente - firm to the bite. Stir from time to time while cooking, and taste and check for salt. Just before serving, add the grated cheese, mixing it into the soup.

Finally, I should furnish you with a recipe for cooking fresh peas, as sometimes it just doesn't go right and the peas end up dull and tasteless.

Put the shelled peas into a solid-bottomed pan and just cover with boiling water from the kettle. Add a pinch of sugar and salt, and a sprig of apple mint, preferably, or any other mint to hand. Once the peas are boiling, put on the lid and simmer for several minutes or until tender. Drain off all but a dribble of the cooking water, pick out the mint sprig, and stir in a generous knob of butter. Grind in some freshly milled white pepper and serve immediately.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Arts and Entertainment
Ugne, 32, is a Lithuanian bodybuilder
tvThey include a Lithuanian bodybuilder who believes 'cake is a sin' and the Dalai Lama's personal photographer
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon have just launched their new streaming service in the UK
music
News
Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - North West - Registered Charity

    £31800 - £35400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This registered charity's missi...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative - OTE £55,000

    £30000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Why not be in charge of your ow...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Operations Manager

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation based in Peac...

    Day In a Page

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food