Pea Is for Perfect

My son loves peas. He asks for them all winter. “Please,” he begs at February dinnertimes, pointing to the frozen Birds-Eye, “make peas.” And each time, I refuse. “We can’t eat peas in February,” I protest. “It’s not the season.”

“You have food issues,” he scowls as I reach for a cauliflower.

Well, maybe I do. But darling, salvation awaits. It’s May, and the sweet-pea pods soon will be bursting. Time to gather the mint, defrost the stock, sauté the shallots: there’ll be soup galore. Time to crumble the feta, chop the dill, and squeeze the lemons: salads will abound.

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Soon, we’ll wade through torrents of pods at the greenmarket, hoarding the glossiest, heaviest ones. We’ll figure a cup of peas for every pound of pods. We’ll get them home and sit out back to shell them: in one bowl, the strings and fibrous pods; in the other, their tender prize. We’ll boil the water in the steamer pot, just three or four minutes. And we’ll know it’s spring.

Chef David Shakin knows, too. At the Heights Bistro & Bar (334 Underhill Ave, Yorktown Heights, 914-962-3777), spring peas gleam in a minty broth spooned over salmon, and speckle prosciutto-spiked mashed potatoes in ravioli. There’s luminous soup, and a minted pea flan served with spring lamb. “I love the round shape and softness of spring peas,” he says. “There’s the texture too, that little ‘pop’ when you bite into them.” And then there’s the whole social thing. “When it’s slow,” he says, “all the staff sits around to shell them. It’s a lot of fun.”

Whether you buy the peas in pods or already shelled, be sure to use them immediately. “They’re so sweet when they’re freshly picked,” Shakin notes. Yes, Chef, my soup pot is waiting, my mint is growing. And my son is smiling.

Minted Spring Pea Flan

courtesy of David Shakin
(serves 6)

1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup fresh spring peas
5 large mint leaves, chopped
½ cup milk
½ cup cream
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

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Preheat oven to 350Ëš F. Lightly grease six four-ounce custard cups, ramekins, or tins. Over medium heat, heat oil in medium sauté pan. Add shallot and sauté until softened, but not browned—about 1 minute. Add mint and peas and cook until peas are tender—about two minutes. Spoon pea mixture into a blender, add milk, cream, egg and egg yolk, and salt and pepper. Purée thoroughly. Pour mixture into prepared cups and place in baking dish. Fill dish with hot water until halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake until flans are set and not wobbly, about 45 minutes. Unmold by inverting cups onto serving plate, lifting slightly and tapping firmly.

Serve as an accompaniment to roasted meats or meaty fish, or as a first course with light tomato or mushroom sauce.

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