I love fresh shelling peas, and I lament the fact that they are not more commonly available. I asked Beryl if she'd plant a good bunch of them this year to use in my favorite pasta dish of fettucini with fresh peas, prosciutto and sage butter. She obliged and got a decent crop. In our garden, the season of shelling peas has pretty much come and gone. At the end, we were left with the inevitable stragglers: the starchy, oversized peas left hanging in slowly yellowing pods.
I wouldn't have thought of it myself, but Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Cafe and author of the fantastic Zuni Cafe Cookbookhas a recipe, or a method rather, for getting the most out of those last remaining gems: braising! Hers is a great cookbook that focuses on unique combinations of fresh, seasonal produce, but also incorporates excellent guidance and instruction throughout. It won the James Beard cookbook of the year award in 2003. Worth picking up.
Here, the starchy peas are braised with onions, sage and pancetta in just their own moisture and some butter.
Braised Peas with Onions, Sage, & Pancetta
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
2 cups finely diced yellow onions
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 cups starchy green peas
a sprig of fresh sage
2 to 3 oz pancetta, finely minced
Warm the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and a little salt and cook slowly for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add the rest of the ingredients and another small pinch of salt. Stir gently to coat and cover tightly. Cook on low for 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size and tenderness of the peas. It should be quietly sputtering. Don't try to rush it. Stir occasionally, but be quick and try not to let out too much moisture.
The peas are ready when they're quite tender, but still intact. Once they start losing their skin, they'll go mushy pretty quickly. The juices should be rich and velvety. If they're at all thin, simmer gently uncovered, stirring, until it thickens. Enjoy!
Serves 4 to 6