It’s a good time to find fresh peas at the markets

June 21, 2019

Every farmers market seems to have a different personality, and I’ll introduce you to two of them. The Historic Lewes Farmers Market is well-organized and comfortably arrayed across the grassy fields of George H.P. Smith Park. Colorful tents feature organic and sustainable growers with a wide range of produce, meats, dairy products and eggs. Rounding out the offerings are prepared foods, baked goods, flower and plant vendors, not to mention lavender and jam. 

For each Saturday market, a local chef conducts a cooking demo and shares samples with the audience. Mid-morning, the Children’s Librarian from the Lewes Public Library holds a story time on a blanket in a quiet corner. You’re sure to run into someone you know when you visit this busy market - everyone stops by, from the mayor to your neighbors.

On the other hand, the Nassau Valley Vineyards Sunday Market feels more like a street carnival with live music, crafts and hot sandwiches. At one end of the crowded row of merchants is the knife sharpener and a tent at the opposite end is where you’ll find CBD products. Freshly-shorn alpacas are quite the draw and products made from their wool are impossibly soft. Among all these, you can also find local produce, including these just-picked peas (see photo).

Although I will confess to eating frozen peas from time to time, I love the flavor and tender texture of fresh sweet peas. There are basically three kinds of peas: English peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas. The most common are garden peas or English peas, which earned their name from the wide variety of pea plant cultivars developed in England.                                          

They’re also called shelling peas because their slightly curved, tough, fibrous pods are inedible. You don’t want to harvest these until the peas inside are fully plumped and bright green. If you pick them too soon, the peas may be different sizes or some may be missing from the pod. They also need to have enough time to develop their signature sweet flavor. These are the peas you’ll typically find frozen and canned.

The next type are snow peas, often called pea pods or their French name, mange tout (eat it all) because the pods are so tender you easily eat the whole thing. You can recognize these pods, as they’re almost flat, harvested before the peas have a chance to form. These are a familiar ingredient in Asian cooking and add a delightful crunch to summer salads.

Sugar snap peas have qualities of both of the first two. The peas are allowed to plump up a bit inside their crisp, edible pods. These don’t need to be shelled and can be steamed, tossed in a stir fry or eaten raw. Although sometimes sold in frozen form, try to avoid those; they lose all their crunch and tend to be mushy.

Since this is a good time to find each of the three types of peas fresh at the markets, I’ve included a recipe for each. If you look for pea recipes online, you’ll notice many of them call for frozen peas. This is certainly convenient, but also tasty, as they’re usually flash frozen at the processing plants and if treated kindly, can shine in most preparations. But, the best peas can be found near the bagels or alpacas.

Fresh Pea Soup

1 T unsalted butter
1/4 C minced shallot
1 C vegetable stock
2 C shelled green peas
1/2 C half & half
salt & white pepper, to taste
creme fraiche for garnish

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté until softened. Add stock and peas; simmer until peas are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Stir in half & half, then puree with an immersion blender. Season to tased with salt and white pepper. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve chilled. Garnish with a swirl of creme fraiche. Yield: 4 servings. 

Fresh Pea Salad

1 C shelled green peas
1 C sugar snap peas, halved
1/2 C sliced radish
1/2 C diced cucumber
1 T finely shredded mint leaves
2 T minced shallot
1 finely minced garlic clove
zest & juice from 1 lemon
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T olive oil
pinch cayenne
salt & pepper, to taste

In a serving bowl, toss together peas, radish and mint. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the remaining ingredients until well-blended. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently to combine. Chill for 1 hour before serving. Yield: 4 servings.

Shrimp, Snow Peas & Pasta

1 1/2 C uncooked penne pasta
1 T olive oil
1 lb shelled, deveined shrimp
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 minced garlic cloves
1 C cherry tomatoes, halved
2 C fresh snow peas, halved
1/4 C shredded basil
2 T olive oil
2 T Balsamic vinegar
2 T lemon juice
2 T chopped parsley
1 minced shallot
salt & pepper, to taste
1/8 t red pepper flakes
1/2 C shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 C pasta water. Place penne in a serving bowl and toss with 1 T olive oil; cover to keep warm. In a large skillet, heat 1 T olive oil and 1 T butter over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until pink, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cherry tomatoes, snow peas and basil; cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and cover. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, parsley, shallot, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over cooked pasta and add shrimp mixture to bowl. Toss gently to combine, adding reserved pasta water, if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Yield: 4 servings.

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