Photo by Joseph De Leo

Sweet peas are prized in many parts of Italy, but many think that the sweetest come from Peseggia, a town north of Venice.  The peas are so tender that even the princess in the Princess and Pea fairy tale would have felt comfortable.  In May and June the town holds a Sagra dei Bisi, a festival of peas.  During the festival people dress in period costumes, and there are all kinds of performances.  Most importantly, there are numerous booths serving the exquisitely sweet peas prepared in a variety of ways.

A classic preparation is Risi e Bisi, a soup of rice and peas.   Served to the Venetian Doge during one of the most important festivals of the year, the Sensa, Risi e Bisi embodies the festival as a marriage of land and sea.  The peas are islands that float in the broth that symbolizes the Venetian lagoon.

At their peak, peas explode with flavor in your mouth.  One of our favorite recipes comes from a restaurant in the Veneto named Il Pompiere.  The chef/owner Marco makes an egg pasta dish that is infused with the luscious pea flavor, but only when the peas from Peseggia are in season.  He was kind enough to share his secret with me. It’s actually very simple. Once the peas are tender, half are pureed until creamy and mixed back into the sauce. When the pasta is tossed with the sauce it absorbs all that delicious pea flavor, which is why I like using the wider tagliatelle noodles. Although it is possible to make this dish with frozen peas, the sweet taste of fresh peas is so wonderful that it is well worth the time it takes to shell them.

Tagliatelle with Peas

From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan

One of my favorite restaurants in Verona is Il Pompiere. They make a pasta dish when peas are in season that is thoroughly

1/2 medium yellow onion
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 pounds fresh peas in the pod (or 12 ounces frozen peas)
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces dried egg tagliatelle (or pappardelle)

  1. Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. Peel and finely chop the onion. Put the olive oil in a saucepan or deep 8-inch skillet, add the chopped onion, and place over medium heat. Sauté until the onion turns to a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.
  3. While the onion is sautéing, shell the fresh peas, if using.
  4. When the onion is ready, add the peas and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir the peas well, then add about 1/2 cup water. Cook over medium heat until the peas are tender, adding water if it evaporates completely before they are done. It should take 15 to 20 minutes for the peas to become tender. (If using frozen peas, add water only once and cook for 6 to 8 minutes).
  5. When the peas are tender, remove from the heat, take out about half the peas and puree them. A food mill will make the smoothest puree, but if you don’t have one you can use a food processor. Put the pureed peas back in the pan with the whole peas.
  6. Add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling pasta water, add the tagliatelle, and stir until all the strands are submerged. Cook until al dente.
  7. After the pasta has cooked for about 2 minutes, add 3/4 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the peas and stir well.
  8. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce, and serve at once.