Every year when I was growing up in Mississippi my family and I would eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. . . from a can. In fact, before moving to California I’d rarely spotted a pea that wasn’t canned, frozen or dried.
These days I’m lucky to live in a state where farmer’s markets pop up five times a week. Still, though, I can appreciate peas for their versatility: They can be eaten as whole, fresh pods; shelled and fresh; or shelled and dried.
Most of us usually eat peas dried or frozen, but fresh English peas that sprout this time of year need barely any cooking at all. Try stirring them into risotto at the last minute with a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — simple and flavorful.
Peas are at their peak in the spring, so when you’re shopping, look for peas with crisp, smooth, glossy, bright green pods. I promise, it’s no chore to slid open the pods and pop out those sweet, tender peas.
Quick blanching or steaming is the best way to retain fresh peas’ crisp texture and vibrant color. Shell them just before cooking so they don’t dry out, and cover them with a damp paper towel to keep them moist.
Peas pair well with herbs like mint and parsley, which allow their delicate sweetness to shine. Peas with Pancetta, Mint and Ricotta Salata make an elegant spring side dish, while this English Pea and Ricotta Tart uses similar ingredients for a colorful appetizer.
Our Pea and Asparagus Salad with Meyer Lemon Dressing (pictured at left) makes another impressive seasonal side when paired with lamb. Alternatively, classic Sweet Pea Soup with Fresh Sorrel starts off an al fresco lunch perfectly.
Visit the Williams-Sonoma website for a whole glossary of peas, from chickpeas to snow peas.