Don’t Be Seduced by Pretty, Pretty Peas

Find a homely one with an interesting personality.

Screw giving peas a chance. I’m sick of those disappointing little bastards. Look at them. “Oh! Pretty! Green! I feel like I’m in a garden and rabbits are talking to squirrels and sharing cups of afternoon tea.” And then you eat a spoonful and they’re a mouthful of pebbles, hard and mealy and starchy. It’s a punishment for daring to dream.

So I’ve pretty much given up on peas, with an ex-lover kind of bitterness. But when I’m feeling fair, I can see it’s not their fault, really. The thing with peas is that they’re really legumes. They just want to fit in with their cousins Chickpea, Black Eyed Pea, and Pigeon Pea.

We keep them tender by plucking them when they’re still immature, before they get to be all the starch they can be. When they’re still on the plant, they’re full of sugary goodness. But that sugar turns to starch the second it’s picked, up to 40 percent in the first few hours. If you’re going to rob the cradle, you’d better know what you’re going to do with the baby but quick. Freshness really matters.

But the fact is that even at your favorite farm-to-table restaurants you can’t realistically get peas minutes out of the garden. So you see them on the menu, you get excited, and you get screwed.

But for all the tough talk, I’m a soft touch. I still order them all the time, hoping against hope. And finally, last week, I hit it: braised peas and artichokes, the most delicious bowl of food I’ve had in months. The seasoning was superb—sweet, just a little tart, and deep enough to make me wonder if the kitchen had used a meat stock. But the secret was obvious: The peas were ugly.

In cooking school, I had the Seven-Minute Rule beat into my head. Green vegetables turn the drab color of army fatigues after seven minutes of cooking, so make sure you’re hitting them with enough heat to cook them through quickly, or you’ll end up with food that looks like it came out of a can. Hideous! Disgusting! To be avoided at all times if you want people to take you seriously. But, like a secret rebel faction, there were those chefs who wanted you to take your green beans farther than the party line. Their flavor, they said, doesn’t really come out until you cook them to the point of softness.

The same goes for peas. The ones I had at Franny’s had the hell cooked out of them, coming out army green and yielding, nutty, complex. I suspect the long cooking time breaks down the starches and proteins to create that depth of flavor. And I suspect that the peas were happier that way, too. They finally got treated like the legumes they are.

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