Saturday, June 30, 2007

Snap Peas: Sweet and Sexy

After lettuce and spinach, snap peas are one of the first local vegetables to appear at the roadsides in Rhode Island. Also known as sugar snap peas after one of their most famous varieties, they are members of the club of naturally sweet vegetables that includes corn, beans, the standard English or garden pea, and carrots—but with less starch, or carbohydrates, than most. I am partial to all sweet veggies, and snap peas are one of my favorites.
Snap peas have an edible pod, similar to the flat snow pea but plumper, curvier, juicier, and crisper: they “snap” when you bend them, like a good bean. If a vegetable could be said to be sexy, then I think the snap pea qualifies. Really, look at them. See what I mean? Even their strings curl provocatively when you pull them down…all right, I’ll stop. But they’re enticing.
To prepare snap peas for eating, grasp the stem end and pull it down with one of the plump sides facing you; if the peas are very fresh, this will remove the strings on both the inner and outer curves in one movement. Sometimes it is necessary to remove the strings separately: pull the blossom end toward the inner curve, and pull the stem end toward the outer.
Snap peas are so sweet and crunchy they can be eaten raw, out of hand or in salads. They freeze, and even pickle, well. For cooking, they can be blanched, steamed, sautéed, or, for a real treat, battered and deep-fried. They are glossily beautiful and delicious sautéed plain in butter with a little salt and nothing else. They are a good vegetable for dips either raw or briefly blanched (try the aioli, June 17 post) or, also raw or blanched, can be split open and perkily piped with an herbed soft cheese (sort of an ‘80s thing). I like them with pasta. The two recipes below can be eaten alone as a side dish or as the sauce for your favorite pasta or egg noodle. As a summer side dish, snap peas are great with fish and shellfish, particularly seared or grilled scallops.

Snap Peas with Pancetta
(Serves 2-3)
half of a ½” slice of pancetta, finely chopped
2 T finely chopped shallot
1 T unsalted butter
½ lb snap peas, trimmed
1 ½ tea good-quality balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

In a medium frying pan, cook pancetta, stirring with a wooden spoon, over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden. Add the butter and the shallot and let it cook, foaming up a bit, for about 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium and add the snap peas; toss them around with the wooden spoon, being careful that they don’t brown, for 2-3 minutes. Add the vinegar, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and toss well; some of the browning in the pan will loosen on its own, but do not scrape. Serve as a side dish, or toss with 6 ounces buttered, cooked semolina linguini to serve two, with grated parmesan to taste.

Snap Peas with Cream
Simplicity in itself. Our local, unhomogenized cream is similar to top cream; it plops thickly when poured, almost like sour cream, yet it is sweet and fresh. If you can find some where you live, it makes this extra-special. For this dish, think of the cream as melted butter: you are not cooking it down, as you would to make a sauce for, e.g., tortellini. You want it to coat and only slightly thicken; that is why you can get away with so little. Serves 2-3.
½ lb snap peas, stringed
2 tea unsalted butter
scant ½ cup heavy cream
salt, pepper
2-3 T chopped flat-leaf parsley and fresh mint (about 4:1) or all parsley
Sauté peas in butter 2-3 minutes over moderate heat; do not allow them to get too brown. Pour cream over; toss; remove from heat, add herbs, salt, and freshly ground pepper, and toss once more.
To serve over pasta: For this, I like the tender richness of an egg noodle, whose large surface area also coats nicely; if you use an Italian pasta, look for one made with eggs (most fresh ones, and a very few dried). Boil 6-7 oz of egg noodles in salted water ‘til just tender, about 9 minutes; near the end of the cooking time, quickly sauté the peas in the 2 teaspoons of butter. Drain the noodles, return them to the pot, and toss them with an additional teaspoon or so of butter. Pour in the cream and toss around over low heat for a bit; remove from the heat and toss with salt, pepper, and the herbs to taste; add the peas and toss once more. Serves 2.

1 comment:

delk said...

Hello from Chicago!

Not sure if I remember how I found your blog, but I do enjoy reading it! I made chicken salad after reading your post!