Peas have a reputation. And it ain't good - starchy and a weird color, very often the color of something a babe has recycled. But in fact, they can be delicious and there's a reason we feed them whooshed to infants, they're nutritious. If you hate peas, my theory is, you've probably never had a good pea.
Where to find a good pea? In my opinion, there are only two options. 1. You're in a field of peas, and you're picking them at the perfect stage of readiness - not too fat, not too skinny. From there, you immediately walk to a kitchen, have everyone in the house help you shell, then directly into salted boiling water. 30 seconds later, you have perfectly delicious peas. Sound like a lot of work and effort? Yep, sure is. I eat my peas in the garden, and very generously share one or two with the cockers, who adore them. They'll pick their own peas given a chance, and have ruined many a vine to get at them. Turns out, pea shoots are just as delectable as peas. Option 2. Go to the freezer section of your local grocery and find the peas - choose the smallest ones you can find, possibly labeled petite or baby, and purchase. I pay $1.29 for a 10oz foil wrapped box of BirdsEye in my local grocer. I would actually pay a lot more for this treasure, but please don't tell the grocer. There are bags of frozen baby peas available at a lower price, but for my money, the box o'peas is the clear winner for taste. Dunno why, but there it is.
So you have your box of peas, what to do with them? You could cook them per pkg direction. Borrrring. Tasty, but boring. How about a pea pesto? It's simple, SO lovely, tasty and easy.
Let the peas defrost on the counter. When they're almost unfrozen, dump them into your food processor. (You could mash in a bowl as well, but the texture suffers.) Add to the peas: a fat handful or freshly grated parmigiana reggiano or pecorino romano. I like a combination of the two. Smashed garlic, to taste. One fat clove works for me. Salt, sparingly, and black pepper. Pulse a time or two to get things going, then whoosh, adding a thing stream of EVOO, maybe a 1/4 cup total, until a nice paste forms. Taste and adjust seasoning. Voilá! Pea pesto.
10oz box of frozen petite peas, mostly unfrozen
1/3-1/2 cup grated cheese
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4ish cup EVOO
salt and pepper to taste
The sweetness of the peas is the first thing to hit your palette, followed quickly by the zing of the garlic, then the cheese and bread bring up the rear. For me, I could eat it until I burst - it's a perfect sweet, salty, rich, sharp/bitter, creamy combo.
Because there are so few ingredients, they have to be quality ingredients. No green can cheese, use real imported, and shred or grate it yourself. Frozen crushed garlic would be ok, but please, nothing already crushed from a jar. Buy whole cloves if you want that shortcut, the already crushed has a weird flavor. Extra virgin olive oil - I could write a book about EVOO. Trader Joe's has two very good ones on their shelves, at good prices - the California Estate, and the 100% Greek Kalamata Olive.
How to use this magical green food? My favorite way is slathered on a toasted piece of good bread, with a shaving of manchego on top. Breakfast of champions. But it also makes a lovely and unusual hors d'ouevres, works phenomenally mixed with fresh pasta (add a dollop of ricotta on top!), would be lovely aside a piece of crispy fish, under a broiled or grilled tomato, make green eggs, and have I mentioned that most kids will eat it, if you don't tell them it's peas? My nephew thinks it's hilarious to eat Shrek food - Shrek only eats green things of course, to stay green himself. (We do check for any color changes post meal, and I promise to make more in the future to try and turn Shrek green again. Remind me to tell you about the time I slathered a little bit of seaweed face mask on my skin to get him to try it the first time. Who doesn't want to be green?)
You could also add or subject ingredients to change the profile slightly, and get a little more sophisticated with the flavor profile. I would stay with the peas and parm, but maybe you add a little tarragon or chervil, add some nuts - pine nuts, hazelnuts, even macadamias would be nice (cut the oil a bit). Add some sautéed shallots or onions. Add a little sherry. Top with some crispy bits of country ham or bacon, add some cream or creme fraiche instead of evoo. If you wanted to get super fancy, as I did for our 17th wedding anniversary recently, grilled a slice of bread (I used a batard for it's dense texture) and rub with raw garlic once it's off and cooled enough to touch. Pesto top it. Top pesto with a dab of roasted tomato sauce (you know the One) that you've reduced down with a little vodka, then good Spanish manchego on top of that. It's penne a la vodka without the penne - flavor match and set.
So go get your pea on! But if I see you in the market perusing the canned peas, I will have to take away your food lover card. Sorry, those are the rules.