Cooking Local: Garden Peas & Risotto

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A bag of fresh Farmers' Market peas

Text and photos by Greta Hardin

The peas are here! Fresh Garden or English peas will not be for long. Sure, you can get frozen peas any time of the year. But they are not the same at all. So go out and get yourself a pound or two to enjoy while they are fleetingly here. And do not cook them like peas from the freezer. Treat them like the fleeting delicacy they are.

As a kid I hated peas. I would do almost anything to avoid those wrinkly green spheres of doom. But the catch was, they were frozen peas. They were mushy. They (to me) tasted of starchy paste.

Then I tried fresh raw peas. They were crisp and sweet with a mysterious green flavor. I was willing to try blanched peas. With some butter, mint and a little salt, these were amazing. To this day I am such a fan of the springtime English or Garden Pea that I even grow them. The fact that they are one of the easiest spring crops to produce has something to do with it, but so does my utter enjoyment of this fleeting treat.

Shelling peas - Step 1

One of my favorite ways to enjoy them is in the traditional Italian Risi e Bisi or Rice and Peas. This is just risotto rice with Parmesan, salt and pepper with fresh peas stirred in at the last moment. Oh, and don't let the risotto stories scare you. All you really need to do is pay attention, and not be on a competitive cooking show with time limits. Mere mortals need a half an hour to make risotto, not some magical 15 minutes. Just serve it as soon as it is done, andmost of the problems won’t apply to you.

Risi e Bisi
my favorite home for spring peas.

Shelling peas - Step 2

Ingredients:
Broth (chicken)  - 4C/1qt (one of those boxes works great)
Parmesan Cheese - a few oz.
Salt and Pepper – to taste
Garlic – 2 cloves
Olive oil – 1 Tbs
Aborio rice – 1C + 2Tbs
English/Garden peas (in their pods) – 1 lb
(Optional - a bit of bacon, or Italian equivalent, chopped into small match-sticky sized bits.  Or sausage)

Equipment:
2 pans - 1 at least 6 cups (1.5 quarts), the other at lest 8 cups (2 quarts)
Ladle
Heat resistant stirring spoon (wood, plastic, just not metal)
Cheese grater 
Knife
Cutting board

Prep:
Pour the broth into the smaller pan, set it to boil, then turn down to simmer so it stays hot.
Pop the peas out of their pods.
Smash, Peel and finely chop the garlic.
Grate enough Parmesan cheese for 2 generous handfuls.

Risi e Bisi or Rice and Peas

Cook! 
  1. In the larger pan, pour in a short Tbs of oil, place over medium heat*.  When the oil has heated for 3-4 minutes - looks shiny, and pours around the pan easily, add the garlic, stir for a few seconds of sizzle.  Then stir in the rice and toast for about 2 minutes.
  2. Use the ladle to add about 1/3 of the stock.  Stir it in, and let it bubble until the rice absorbs it and starts to get a bit sticky/starchy looking.  Stir now and then while this is happening.
  3. Add the next third, repeat.
  4. Add the last third of the stock, repeat.  As the last third gets close to being absorbed, and the rice is tender enough to eat, stir in the cheese, salt, pepper and peas.
  5. Let cool until you can just eat it.  (Add in optional bacon or sausage)
  6. Sigh with delight, and share with people you love.
*if you want to add some bacon, render the fat out of the bacon, cook the pieces until crisp, the remove them.  Continue on with the recipe using the rendered (tasty) bacon fat. Add the crispy bacon back on top as a garnish at the end.

Do the same with the sausage – cook it first to flavor the oil, then set it aside for the end.

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Starting Saturday June 14th - October 4th
The Shoreline Farmers Market will be at Shoreline City Hall
Top level of the Parking Structure (Free Parking underneath)
17500 Midvale Ave N, Shoreline

Sunday May 11th - October 26th
The Lake Forest Park Farmers Market is at Third Place Commons
Lower Level Parking Lot (Free Parking in surrounding spots and in the upper lot)
17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park
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Greta Hardin is a science teacher, food nerd, and the author of Cooking Your Local Produce: A cookbook for tackling Farmers Markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and your own back yard.

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