Among summer’s incredible bounty are fresh-shelled peas of all varieties: from fava beans to English peas to whiteacres and more. Last week at the Morningside Farmer’s Market I picked up a couple of pints of pink-eyes, knowing they’d been shelled a few hours before and I’d be cooking them a few hours later.
There are many wonderful things that you can do with fresh peas. I highly recommend this black-eyed pea, corn, and tomato salad from Virginia Willis’ Bon Appetit, Y’all. After seeing her make this last summer (and tasting it!) at a market demo, we enjoyed this salad at home several more times last year. I certainly don’t intend to let this summer slip by without making sure it’s as good as I remember.
But my favorite thing, and the easiest, to do with fresh summer peas is just to boil them up and serve them in their own broth, perhaps over rice or grits. Here I served them over stone-ground grits cooked with fresh cream and parmesan. A friend said she topped the same thing with crumbled up local bacon, and I just bet that it was out of control.
Simple Fresh-Shelled Peas
Fresh-shelled peas – pink-eyes, whiteacres, field peas, and on and on
Enough liquid to cover (you could use just water, or use vegetable or chicken broth or bouillon)
1 white onion, cut into eighths, length-wise
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Ham hock
A note on seasoning: My mom and grandmother would never have cooked peas without a ham hock in the broth to flavor them. Salty, fatty, savory, and smoky, pork is used to flavor much Southern cooking – here’s a new book with recipes and history that calls pork “the King of the Southern table.” (If anyone feels like buying me a present, feel free to make it this book!) However, as a vegetarian for many years, I adapted this dish to my needs. I found that a few cubes of veggie bouillon, the cut up onion, salt, and maybe some additional olive oil or butter for fat content mimicked very well the taste I remembered from childhood. If you do use bouillon, broth, or ham hock, you will need far less salt in the cooking liquid than if using just water, so do adjust accordingly.
To cook: Place peas in a pot with onion and enough liquid to cover. Boil for 20-30 minutes, or until tender but still firm and not mushy. As the peas cook, you will notice a gray foam forming on the surface of the water – simply skim this off with a shallow spoon and discard. Taste before serving for salt and pepper. As mentioned, these are wonderful just in their own juices, perhaps with a piece of cornbread to soak up the liquid, or on top of white rice or creamy stone-ground grits. Serve and enjoy!