Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Jun 15, 2011
08:03 AMSmall Dishes
Peas in our Time
Growing up, peas—the kind in inedible pods that must be shelled—were the most popular green vegetable. Inevitably they were canned or frozen; inevitably included in Swanson TV Dinners. Not that fresh ones weren’t available, but the season is short so all the more sweet. I anticipated the first peas of the season every bit as much as asparagus and strawberries. Sadly, those days are gone.
Super markets today—excluding the snow and sugar snap varieties—seem to avoid selling them. Probably because people don’t buy them since preparation involves tedious hulling. Fortunately, fresh peas are still available seasonally at farmers’ markets and gourmet markets. Trader Joe’s even sells them out of the pod in plastic bags. Increasingly found on the menus at trendy restaurants are nutritious and tasty pea shoots—the young, top tendrils from the plant used raw in salads.
The English developed what we now recognize as green peas—sometimes called English peas. Their popularity spread to the North American colonies where they thrived. Thomas Jefferson grew over thirty different kinds at Monticello. They were his favorite vegetable and in his Garden Book he mentions a much anticipated annual competition to produce the first peas. Today the U.S. is the third leading producer in the world, following China and India. About 20% of all the peas grown in this country come from Wisconsin.
I remember one of the first salad bars I ever encountered was at a Michigan restaurant. Among the many options was an unusual pea and peanut salad—green peas, peanuts, celery, onion and bacon held together with mayonnaise (or more likely, Miracle Whip). I’ve also heard a lot about the famous Heidel House cheese and pea salad, but never sampled it. I occasionally spot them on the menu at local restaurants … here are a few of my discoveries.
Lombardino’s features a seasonal Spring Green Salad composed of fresh pea shoots, peas, watercress, romaine and goat cheese that’s dressed with a sweet wine vinegar and lemon-infused olive oil vinaigrette.
Spectacular Scottish salmon at 43 North is presented with a spring medley of parsnips, ramps and peas.
Chicken Fresco is a specialty at its namesake, Fresco Rooftop Restaurant, and contains a potpourri of fingerling potatoes, asparagus and peas in a thyme flavored cream sauce.
Sardine serves a traditional French veal paillard: a pounded scallop served in its own juices with a bouquet of artichoke, cauliflower and peas.
Penne Paradiso at the Continental Fitchburg is a classic northern Italian pasta dish with prosciutto, peas and a reduced cream sauce.
I’ll close with a personal favorite, Susan Spicer’s modern recipe for a traditional New Orleans’ favorite from her popular restaurant.
Bayona’s Shrimp Clemenceau
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup diced potatoes, blanched until tender in water
1 cup white mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup fresh or frozen small peas
½ cup white wine or vermouth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup green onion tops, finely chopped
Heat oil and butter in medium sauté pan and add diced potatoes. Toss and sauté until lightly browned, then add mushrooms and toss. Cook 2-3 minutes, then add garlic and shrimp and cook a few more minutes. Add peas, season with salt and pepper and remove from pan to bowl or platter and keep warm in oven. Deglaze pan with wine and lemon juice, bring to boil and reduce by half, then whisk in butter gradually to make creamy sauce. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.