Fresh Peas and drawing out the flavor

by Marcella Hazan on May 3, 2012

The Times had an interesting story about what they do with fresh young peas at L’Oustau de Baumaniere, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence. In some ways, the recipe published in the Times closely parallels how I do peas, but it also diverges from it. Read it and judge for yourself which approach is likely to yield the more forthright and sweeter fresh peas taste.

As in an uncounted number of Italian dishes, the base of mine is onions, although in this instance, as I cook the onions in olive oil I sweat them, that is to say I sprinkle them with salt and partly cover the saucepan to draw out some of their sweet liquid. I use more romaine lettuce than the Oustau’s chef, who dumps it in the pan just before serving the peas. I shred it very fine, and put it in the pan together with the peas. The juices of the onions and the lettuce are usually sufficient to cook the peas, if they are very young and tender. If it becomes necessary, I add a little water to keep the cooking going. I have no need for broth. When I feel irrepressibly industrious, I also peel the pods, as the Oustau’s chef likes to do. But peeling the peas themselves? That is overkill and plain silly.
We do many terrific things with peas. The very tiny early ones are ideal prepared in the Florentine manner, in a skillet with olive oil and prosciutto diced fine. In my region, Romagna, we make a sauce of prosciutto and peas for tagliatelle. In the Veneto, larger peas known as “senatori” are used for the brothy risotto known as risi e bisi. The most sublime dish that uses fresh peas is vignarola, the Roman vegetable braise that also includes artichokes and fava beans. A similar combination of those ingredients is the Sicilian frittedda. They are all in one or another of my books.