The following extract comes from my latest book The Great British Vegetable Cookbook (see Books). For Pea Fritatta, go to the Cook Now section.
One of the great pleasures of childhood is raiding the pea
patch. Few things taste as good as
illicitly picked garden peas on a hot summer’s day. Bending down amongst the rustling plants, the
stems squeak as you snap off plump, succulent pods. Under the nets, such peas taste sweeter than
sugar and far better than any cooked meal.
The flavour of garden peas defines British culinary taste –
pure, simple and sweet, peas need little work to make them taste heavenly: a
pat of butter, a hint of mint or a little bacon. Our modern idea of peas is based on tender
garden peas, which can be round or wrinkled, the latter being sweeter but less hardy. Yet, for 2,500 years, we’ve grown countless
different types - field peas were found at an early Iron Age site in
Glastonbury. Our ancestors grew starchy
peas that could be dried for the winter months, hence pea soup, pease pudding
and mushy peas.
Fresh (climbing) garden peas were grown in Tudor times, but
only became widely available to cooks in the seventeenth century. Imagine the social torture of being served
such delicacies and being unable to spear them on your two pronged fork!
* 450g/1lb fresh peas (in their pods) yield
about 185g/6 ½ oz shelled peas – depending on the size of the peas. Allow 400g/14oz shelled peas for 4 people or
about 1kg/2lb 3oz peas in their pods.
* As soon as peas are
picked they start to convert their sugar into starch becoming less sweet and
more mealy, so use quickly after picking or purchase.
* Mangetout (snow
peas) and sugar snap peas are pea cultivators that have not developed the stiff
papery inner parchment of their pods, so can be eaten whole. Top and tail as required.
* Pea shoots are pea
sprouts snipped from their seed. They
add a sweet pea-like flavour to salads and stir-fries.
* The intense
sweetness of peas is increased when they’re combined with umami-tasting
ingredients, such as bacon, caramelised onion, strong hard cheese, prawns,
scallops, lobster, stock, tomato-based sauces, roast fowl and meat.
* Peas benefit from the
addition of herbs and spices, in particular, ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander,
mint and basil, as well as turmeric, cumin and dried coriander.
* They are
particularly delicious when combined with cream, crème fraiche and/or eggs –
for example, puréed into a soufflé or baked whole in a savoury cheese tart or