Peas and pasta offer many different meal options

June 9, 2023

Earlier this week, I was invited to conduct a cooking demonstration for the newly launched local television program “Coast Life.” The best part was that instead of trundling my supplies and equipment to the WRDE studio, a team from the program came to my home in Lewes. I was a bit star-struck when the host of the program, Paige Marley, rang my doorbell.

In preparation for the event, I made a visit to the Historic Lewes Farmers Market to see what looked interesting. At my first stop, there were so many packages of shelled fresh peas, one of my favorite vegetables. We’re not talking about the sad, grayish, overcooked peas you might have eaten in your grammar-school cafeteria. These peas were bright green, perfectly plump and absolutely delicious when I sampled a handful in their raw form.

For the demo, I prepped all the ingredients for my recipe, a simple dish of pasta and peas. When the team arrived, all my chopped herbs were ready in small bowls, the lemon zest on a piece of wax paper, fresh breadcrumbs in the food processor, and a pot of salted water for the pasta was at a rolling boil. For this dish, you want smallish, rounded pasta shapes, such as shells or rotini, so the peas can nestle into them.

Like many familiar ingredients in our diets today, peas have been a staple food for millennia. Originating in western Asia, peas were cultivated by ancient Greeks and Romans, spreading to India and then into China by the 7th century. Originally, peas were eaten from their dried form, boiled and served as a cheap, filling source of protein for the European lower classes during the Middle Ages.

You may have heard of the dish “pease porridge,” which reflects the earliest English name for the vegetable. Food historians believe the “se” was dropped as an erroneous assumption that it reflected a plural form of the word “pea.” Porridges and puddings made with peas centuries ago closely resemble today’s thick and creamy split pea soup, typically seasoned with ham, often using chopped carrots and onion to add interest.

One of the most popular modern uses of the humble pea is as a dietary supplement in the form of pea protein. Unlike most vegetables, which are high in water and carbohydrates, peas are fairly high in protein. Many commercial protein powders rely on pea protein isolate, a combination of pea protein and amino acids. These powders (when mixed with liquid) are easily digestible and have a creamier texture than whey protein. 

I’ve included my recipe for the pasta and pea dish from the TV program segment as seen in the photo. The texture is a combination of crunchy breadcrumbs with toothsome pasta and tender peas. Background flavors include minty sage and bright lemon, awash in slightly salty pasta water. If you wanted to add more protein, you could top the skillet with crumbled feta cheese.

Additional recipes include two versions of fresh pea soup. In the first one, white parts of chopped leek replace onion, and nutmeg adds some warm flavor notes. The second soup recipe combines the ingredients usually found in split pea soup, but fresh green peas replace dried, rehydrated split peas, and crumbled bacon is added to provide smoky, salty notes usually provided by long-simmered ham. It’s pea season!

Pasta with Peas

1/2 lb small pasta shells
4 T butter, divided
1/2 C fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 C finely diced scallion
1 lb shelled peas
3 T chopped sage
1 t grated lemon zest
1/4 C chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 C of the water. While pasta cooks, melt 2 T of the butter in a small skillet. Stir in breadcrumbs and cook until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes; set aside. In a large skillet, melt remaining 2 T butter. Add scallion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add peas, sage and pasta water. Cook until the peas are bright green and tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon zest, remove from heat and cover. Add drained pasta to the skillet with peas; toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parsley; toss gently. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper. Yield: 4 servings.

Minty Pea Soup

1 t olive oil
1 t butter
1/3 C sliced leeks
3 whole cloves
2 T minced parsley
1 T minced mint
3 C broth
1 lb fresh green peas
1/3 C light cream
1/4 t nutmeg
salt & pepper, to taste
sour cream for garnish (optional)

Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan. Stir in green onion and cook over low heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add cloves, parsley, mint, broth and peas; stir to combine. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer peas to a blender with a slotted spoon. Discard cloves and pour 2 C of the liquid into the blender; purée until smooth, adding more broth, if needed. Whisk in cream and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled. Ladle into bowls and garnish, if desired, by filling a small zip-top bag with sour cream, snipping off a corner and piping out a decorative stream over the top of the soup bowl.

Fresh Pea Soup

3 slices bacon
1 T butter
1 diced shallot
1 finely diced carrot
2 C fresh peas
2 C vegetable broth
salt & pepper, to taste

Cook bacon until crisp. Drain and crumble; set aside. In a skillet, sauté shallot and carrot in butter until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add peas and broth; simmer for about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to process soup until smooth. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with crumbled bacon. Yield: 4 servings.

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