May 31 2012

No Mushy Peas Here

Fresh produce can have an extremely limited shelf life; I have to stay on my toes to make sure we eat the produce we bought from the farmers' market before it loses its flavor. This last weekend, I wanted to build a meal around the remaining legumes--peas and fava beans--residing in our refrigerator. By this time last week, I had already incorporated the snow peas into a delicious stir fry, complete with homegrown baby carrots and beets (baby because I had to prune to make room for their siblings to grow larger) and I used the snap peas in a side salad with lime, brown sugar, and carrots. This left me with shelling peas and fava beans.

I turned to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for inspiration. We now own both River Cottage Veg Everyday and River Cottage Everyday, and I frequently find myself flipping through both books, admiring the photography and the ease with which Whittingstall incorporates flavors in replicable ways.

If you've eaten in the British Isles, you probably picked up on the fact that mushy peas are a pivotal part of nearly any meal. They're a traditional side dish to fish and chips and savory pies and you'll find them on the menu thm in a variety of pubs and restaurants.

Knowing this, I wasn't surprised when I flipped to a pea salad recipe in River Cottage Everyday: of course a British cookbook would have a pea recipe! And because Whittingstall is a champion of seasonal and local cooking, he helps the fresh peas shine instead of mushing them into oblivion. This means that the pea salad depends on fresh shelling peas. You could replicate the recipe with frozen peas, but the flavor wouldn't be nearly as crisp and snappy. Because preparing this side is so straightforward, I didn't anticipate how nuanced the dish would taste. By slowly sauteeing spring onions, almost to the point of carmelization, and mixing those onions with a light olive oil dressing and crumbly cheese, the peas transformed from an unassuming Spring delicacy to a mature side dish that would pair equally well with meat, at a barbeque, or with the dish I matched it with: fava beans on toast.

We don't cook with meat at home often, at most twice a month, so when we do have meat in the house, we source it from the best possible purveyor (in this case, Olympic Provisions) and aim to make the meat shine, whether it's in a fall macaroni dish or the New England style baked beans I recently made. Along with mushy peas and fish and chips, beans on toast has to rank in the top 5 most familiar British dishes. (But remember: kidneys on toast are actual kidneys, not kidney beans! I don't think Justin will ever forget that fact!)

Rather than baked beans, this beans on toast recipe takes advantage of the nutty fava bean flavor and slightly oily bacon, making each bite pleasing and complex.

Baby Peas, Ricotta, and Green Onion Salad

Recipe Source: River Cottage Everyday

Serves 4 as a side dish


1 lb fresh peas

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 green onions, sliced on the diagonal


1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

1/2 cup ricotta or other soft cheese


1) Bring a pan of salted water to boil. Once boiling, add the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and set aside.

2) Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. Add the onions and cook gently for around 5 minutes, until soft. Transfer this to the bowl with the peas and mix together.

3) To make the dressing, whisk the lemon juice and oil together with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the peas and onions and stir until combined.

4) Crumble the cheese on top of the peas and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Fava Beans on Toast

Recipe Source: River Cottage Everyday

Serves 2


2 lbs fava beans (still in pod)

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4 inch strips

5 green onions, thinly sliced

Juice of half a lemon

salt and pepper

2-4 thick slices of bread


1) Pod the fava beans. Then, bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes, before immediately removing the beans into an ice water bath. Take each bean and remove the outer skin. Discard the skin!

2) Place a frying pan over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Then add the bacon. Cook the bacon until it begins to crisp and then add the green onions and cook for 1 more minute. Add the beans and toss to combine with the bacon and onions. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

3) Toast the bread and spoon the beans and bacon on top. Enjoy!