Fresh or Frozen, Peas Rise to the Occasion

Burdock’s, an iconic Dublin chipper.

By Margaret M. Johnson

As a food writer, I generally recommend using fresh ingredients — spices, herbs, vegetables, lemon juice — but when it comes to peas, I think frozen work pretty well in most recipes. They are, in fact, the only frozen vegetable I keep on hand for mushy peas to serve with fish ‘n chips, or as a side dish to accompany lamb, poultry, or salmon. Grab a bag and try one of these springtime recipes.

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Pea and Parmesan Crostini
Makes 16
This simple topping for classic crostini will win rave reviews for its originality and taste.
1 loaf Italian or French bread, cut into 16 slices
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
1 tbsp. sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Place bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brush with 2 tbsp. of the olive oil. Broil, turning once, for 2-3 minutes, or until the bread is golden and crisp. Arrange the crostini on serving platter.
2. Combine the peas, remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, sour cream, basil, and lemon peel in a bowl. With a potato masher, lightly mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Spread pea mixture onto bread slices and garnish each with the cheese. (Recipe courtesy of Birdseye Foods)

Fish ’n Chips with Mushy Peas
Serves 4-6
It’s safe to say that you can find traditional fish ’n chips in nearly every pub and casual dining restaurant in Ireland, to say nothing of the ubiquitous “chippers” dedicated solely to serving this national treasure. Mushy peas are an important accompaniment to this food favorite and are typically made with dried marrowfat peas, which require overnight soaking. Most home cooks will favor a simpler recipe that uses frozen or fresh peas. This recipe was first published in my Irish Pub Cookbook.

Mushy Peas
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 lbs. russet potatoes
Canola oil for frying
2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 cup ice water
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 cup cold Irish ale, such as Smithwick’s
2 lbs. cod or haddock fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Malt vinegar for serving (optional)
1. To make the peas, cook according to package directions, reserving 3 tbsp. of the cooking water. Drain and then return to the pan. Add the butter, lemon zest, and reserved cooking water. With a potato masher, lightly mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper; cover and set aside.
2. To make the chips, peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-in-thick wedges and leave in a pot of cold water. Pour enough oil into a large heavy pot to reach a depth of 3 in., or fill an electric deep fryer 3/4 full with oil. Heat until a deep-fat frying thermometer registers 300° F.
3. Drain the potatoes and dry with paper towels. Working in batches, add the potatoes to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes a batch, or until potatoes are just tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet (a brown bag also works well).
4. Heat the same oil to 350° F. Working in batches, re-fry the potatoes for 2 minutes a batch, or until golden brown. Transfer to another paper towel-lined baking sheet (or brown bag) to drain. Sprinkle with salt and keep warm. Maintain temperature.
5. To make the fish, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Stir in the water, vinegar, and beer to form a batter. Do not overwork.
6. Working in batches, dredge 2-3 pieces of fish in the batter and gently drop into the oil. Fry fish, turning frequently, for 4-5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet (or brown bag) to drain.
7. To serve, season fish and chips with salt and pepper and serve immediately with the mushy peas.

Braised Baby Lettuce with Peas and Bacon
Serves 4-6
Use gem lettuce, a miniature variety of romaine, for this recipe. This small lettuce, originally native to France and Spain, has an oblong head of loosely furled leaves that makes it perfect for quick braising or grilling. It’s delicious as a side dish for poultry or lamb.
3 slices bacon, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. chopped shallots
1 bag (14.4 oz.) baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
4 heads gem lettuce, quartered lengthways
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. celery seed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until nearly crisp. Add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft but not brown.
2. Stir in the peas and lettuce and braise, turning once or twice, for 5 minutes, or until the lettuce is wilted. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, celery seed, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

Minted Pea Purée
Serves 4-6
Frozen peas are also terrific in this side dish that has an extra kick from a bit of white wine and a creamy texture from half and half. The purée is delicious with scallops, grilled or smoked salmon.
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup half and half
1 bag (14.4 oz.) baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
1 tbsp. minced fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the wine and cook for about 5 minutes, or until most of the wine evaporates. Add the peas and half and half. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the peas are tender; drain, reserving the liquid.
2. Transfer the peas mixture to a food processor and pulse 8-10 times, or until nearly smooth. Add some of the reserved liquid, if necessary, to thin. Add the mint and pulse 2-3 times.
3. Return the purée to the skillet to heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Margaret M. Johnson, the author of 10 Irish cookbooks, is the Echo’s “Recipes” correspondent. She will be leading her second tour to Ireland in May 2016. For details, see the ad in the print edition of the newspaper.