A celebration of the beautiful spring pea, with a healthful twist on my regular recipe, and full of flavor!
When the peas start coming fast and furious, we’re all happy. Few vegetables are more perfect and versatile as the pea, and none more fleeting in its season, all the more reason to cherish. The sugar snap peas appeared at the farmers market this week, and I was delighted to find them nestled with the radishes and turnips. Tender, with edible pods, they sing of late spring.
The gentle art of shucking peas
English peas, also called garden or shell peas, are my favorite, and although the actual pods are too tough to eat, you can use them to make an extremely flavorful stock. Pea flavor in abundance. When they arrive in their flurry, I’ll have a quiet time with a cup of tea, shelling the peas the same way I did when I was a kid at my mother’s table. A nice time to chat about most anything. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it’s my turn now, and I enlist the grandkids help. You can get pretty fast at it, if you like, or take your time. All nice memories.
Stem, leaf, flower, and fruit, all edible in some way and delicious
Snow peas, another edible pod pea, will follow soon, but we’ll concentrate on those later. In fact, edible pod or not, every part of every pea plant can be used in some way, and I like to take advantage of this. I don’t toss away flavor if I can help it!
Let’s go for a whole grain here
I experimented with my regular pea risotto recipe because as much as I adore using traditional creamy white arborio rice, I prefer to serve my family a whole grain. But organic brown arborio rice is really hard to find, and very expensive! I needed to put my thinking cap on.
And now, potatoes!
I’ve substituted my house short-grained brown rice, and in order to add a little extra starch to the dish, I added some starchy potatoes in the form of diced Russets. They lent enough extra creaminess to mimic the starch from the arborio, and the texture was a nice addition as well. Not traditional, but a few notches more healthful than using a white rice, and I hope I have not offended my Italian cooking friends.
A rice ritual
The grandkids and I love the process of making risotto. Yes, there are recipes where you don’t tend the pot as reverently, or even bake it in the oven, but it’s precisely the ladling routine that we love. A saute of the aromatics, coating of the rice, and ritual deglazing of the pan with wine or cognac, and slow addition of the stock a ladle or two at a time until the rice is cooked to a creamy consistency. You really feel like you’re cooking here, and it’s fun.
I really wanted to keep the flavor of the dish pure pea, so I resisted the urge to add the beautiful bulb of fennel I also found at the market, and a few herbs that were calling my name. The result is an extremely easy, pea-forward dish, a perfect late spring Sunday supper, whether using English peas or sugar snaps. Of course, any leftovers can be used to make arancini balls, or stuff peppers, or even a taco the next day!
Brown Rice Risotto with Spring Peas and Potatoes
- 1 ½ lbs. English peas OR a pint of sugar snaps and cup of frozen green peas
- 7 cups of water
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large or two small leeks, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 ½ cups short grain brown rice
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups small diced Russet potatoes
- 2 tbsp. chives, finely minced, save some for garnish
- 2 tbsp. butter or vegan butter
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan or vegan Parmesan
Shuck the peas. You will have about 2 cups of peas to reserve for the dish. Place the pods in a sauce pan with the water. Bring to a boil with a little salt, cover, and simmer for at least a half hour. Dice the leeks and toss the trimmings into the stock pot as well, along with the peelings of the garlic. If you are using sugar snap peas, clean and cut them in half diagonally, then toss the strings and ends into the stock pot, below.
Once the stock is done, strain it and place it back in the pot over a low simmer to keep it hot. It might sound like a lot of fuss, but it really is simple, a little simmering while you gather the rest of the ingredients, and the flavor those pods add is abundant.
Heat a large, high-sided skillet over a bit higher than medium heat and add the oil. Sauté the leek until soft and add the garlic and rice to coat as well. Season with salt and pepper. Once the rice is well coated, toast for a few minutes, add the wine and stir well. Once it is evaporated, add a couple of ladles of the hot pea stock.
Stir gently, but not constantly, and as the liquid evaporates, add a couple more ladles of the stock. After about 10 minutes, add the potatoes, and continue the routine. Put a little jazz on, and you’re all set for a bit.
Once the rice is just about there, add the peas or sugar snaps and green peas and cook for a few minutes until they are tender.
Remove from the heat and stir in the chives, The texture should be a bit loose, and if it is too stiff, add a bit more broth or water to loosen it up, then add the butter, and the cheese. Taste and check for seasoning. Garnish with pea shoots and flowers and anything else that feels like a spring celebration, and serve immediately!
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