It’s a great time to eat your greens. In my garden, the lettuces and stir-fry greens couldn’t be better, tender and succulent from so much rain. But the pea plants have been slow-going after a late sow, just beginning to blossom with white flowers and form tendrils that clasp onto the trellis. Luckily, more experienced farmers have done the wiser and are bringing their mature pods to the Greenmarket now.
Some might argue there’s no better way to enjoy a sugarsnap pea than perfectly raw. But I think giving them a quick sautee mellows out their super-sweetness, and softens the crunch to a more gentle snap. This pea was actually developed in a lab by crossing a shell pea (with inedible, un-snappy pods) with a snow pea (with crisp, tasty pods and dwarf-like peas), and I find it hard to believe only became popular a few decades ago, they’re such a beloved part of spring now.
As with its snow pea mother, overcooking the snap pea would mean dreadful results — soggy, limp and pale-colored pods are no fun. This is one deterrent to cooking them at all, as you’d be taking a risk. Still, I was certain their bite-size and two textures — pods and peas — would lend them to something out of the ordinary. But I ended up going with one of the most ordinary ways to cook any vegetable, as theorized here recently: with pasta, butter and lemon juice.
Perhaps the only unique thing about this preparation was that I went ahead and split the pods to separate them from the peas. Thinking I might give the oblong pods a coarse chop afterwards, I left them big and chunky — then decided to keep them that way. They were just about the length of a piece of penne, and there’s an ingrained bit of wisdom in my Asian cooking roots that says stir-fries must consist of similarly shaped or cut foods.
Thinking on the Asian side of my brain some more, I tossed in fresh shiso leaves in lieu of a more familiar herb to pair with peas, mint. This fragrant leaf is actually known as “Japanese mint” in some translations, as it shares similarities in its serrated shape and refreshing flavor. But I think shiso has a spicy, peppery taste to boot, which makes the herb very distinct. I was lucky to find myself with a wealth of shiso, which can be hard to find outside of Japanese groceries, this spring. A plant that I’d grown last summer had self-seeded, and is now sprouting up all over one of the converted bathtub-planters on the roof.
At least some plants you don’t have to wait for — or do anything to grow — at all.
Sugarsnap Pea Penne with Shiso
(makes about 4 servings)
1 lb penne (can be whole-wheat like in the photos above, or not)
about 3/4 lb fresh sugarsnap peas
2-3 tablespoons shiso leaves, sliced into chiffonades if large
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
pinch of chili flakes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated parmiggiano-reggiano (optional)
squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional)
Separate the pods from the peas by pulling the stem to one side and continuing to peel off a little string. Break apart the pod and remove the peas into a separate bowl. Split the pod into halves and pile in another bowl.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and stir. Cook to just al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sautee pan and add the minced shallot and optional chili flakes. Stir for about 2 minutes until translucent. Add the pea pods and peas and stir for about 30 seconds. Transfer the penne to the pan with a few splashes of their cooking water as you do (using a slotted spoon to transfer them directly works well). Add pinches of salt and pepper and stir briskly. Remove from heat and add the butter, parmiggiano-reggiano and lemon juice, and finally the shiso leaves for a final toss. Serve immediately.
(for 4 servings)
1 lb whole wheat penne: $3.29
about 3/4 lb fresh sugarsnap peas: $5.00
1 shallot: $0.20
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.20
2-3 tablespoons shiso (self-seeded from my garden… ): $0.25
1 tablespoon butter: $0.25
1/4 cup grated parmiggiano-reggiano: $2.00
salt, pepper, optional chili flakes: $0.05
Four brownie points: All that crunch you get from sugarsnap peas indicates that they’re full of water — which is a good thing, if you want to eat lots. This recipe calls for a big pile of snap peas almost in equal portion to the pasta — use more or less to your own taste. They are pretty high in natural sugars, as their name suggests, but that’s what helps make this dish so satisfying on its own. Bonus: these legumes contain protein, like their mealier distant cousins, beans.
Seven maple leaves: You don’t have to load up on a lot of purchases from the farmers’ market to make something tasty. This healthy spring dish was inspired by just one plant, just in season. The rest are pantry staples like the pasta, butter and shallot. You can adjust it depending on what’s at home easily, or whatever you prefer, but as long as the snap peas are market-fresh, it’s sure to shine.