Peas that please


"Eat your peas!" is seldom heard at the table when the subject of discussion is fresh petits pois, a French variety renowned for the delicacy and tiny size of the shelled peas (about half the size of English ones).

Sweet, tender baby peas (even if they're not authentic petits pois) appeal to most children, especially if they've helped with the shelling. Another good reason for enlisting the aid of small hands: The smaller the peas, the more pea pods to be shelled.

Spring and early summer are prime time for fresh peas, a cool-weather crop. For a seasonal treat, buy the freshest, smallest peas you can find, and get them home quickly and into a plastic bag lined with dampened paper towels. Refrigerate them while you enlist some pea shellers.

The first recipe below follows the Italian tradition of serving the first young peas (piselli) of the season as a memorable first course. The second calls for braising lettuce with young peas to enhance the sweetness of both vegetables.

Peas With Prosciutto

Serves 4 to 6

6 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup green onions, in pea-sized dice

5 pounds baby peas (about 5 cups shelled)

1 cup unsalted chicken stock

1 cup paper-thin julienne prosciutto

2 tablespoons minced green onions, white part only

Melt butter in saute pan over moderately low heat. Add diced green onions and cook 2 minutes. Add peas and stock; cook until peas are just tender (5 to 8 minutes). Stir in prosciutto and remove from heat. Top with minced green onions; serve immediately.

Petits Pois a la Francaise

Serves 6

2 heads butter lettuce

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock

5 pounds petits pois (about 5 cups shelled)

1 tablespoon cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

Separate lettuce leaves; wash and dry. Roll leaves into logs; slice thinly crosswise.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add onion and saute 10 minutes. Add stock; bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Add peas; cover and simmer until almost tender (5 to 8 minutes).

Add lettuce, cover and simmer 2 minutes. Raise heat to high, add cream and simmer, uncovered, for 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Pub Date: 07/04/99

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