2013 may be the Chinese Year of the Snake, but for me it’s shaping up to be the year of one of my favorite spring vegetables. It began with a delicious pea dish on the first day of January, the minted peas my friend Anita Lau, of the widely read Diary of a Mad Hungry Woman food blog, brought to a New Year’s Day gathering. Anita started with a Jamie Oliver recipe, boosted with additional butter, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Peas and mint go way back, culinarily speaking, but the dish had an air of newness—sweet, bright green peas, definitely smashed yet still full of interesting texture, with a surprisingly subtle upper-palate aroma given the amount of fresh mint she employed.
A week or so later, English peas made an appearance at the farmers market, so I cooked peas with lettuce, something I look forward to all year, using butter lettuce from Scarborough Farms. Scarborough, a familiar name on fine restaurant supplier lists, has been at the big Saturday market near UCI for several weeks now. Srsly exquisite stuff. The next weekend, I made a pasta sauce with peas and super-smoky Fatted Calf lamb bacon I’d brought home from San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza farmers market.
But the very best peas of 2013 have been at Dublin 4 Gastropub in Mission Viejo. I can’t get enough of chef David Shofner’s quasi-mushy peas, among many favorite things there. A ramekin of deliciously buttery, very green smashed peas accompanies his FAB fish and chips—a witty, fresh, irresistible take on what’s traditionally made with starchy, dried legumes. (Don’t miss dining critic Gretchen Kurz’ review of Dublin 4 in the current Orange Coast, whose cover story is a guide to the best Mexican food in O.C.)
Because I haven’t been thinking about peas quite enough, I asked Shofner if he’d let me in on the secret to this side, and he was so happy to share. I’ve been buying my peas from Valdivia Farms, who sell at lots of O.C. farmers markets including Tustin on Wednesday, Costa Mesa on Thursday, Laguna Hills on Friday, and the aforementioned Irvine Saturday. You’ll recognize Valdivia as the heirloom-tomato and haricots verts people. They’ll be picking peas for at least another month, and other vendors have them as well. Just don’t be fooled by the similar-looking, edible-pod sugar snaps—you want English, or shelling, peas.
I floated the idea of frozen peas to chef Shofner. He politely—but firmly—demurred. “Would I substitute frozen? No.” he says, “But,could you? Yes. To me, the importance and the difference in our peas is the freshness.” If you’ve tasted the Dublin 4 dish, you know you really can’t argue with that. “But again, yes, you could,” Shofner generously adds. Go with fresh for this a la minute dish—and get ready for vegetable revelation.
David Shofner’s Crushed Fresh Peas
(Makes 6 servings)
4 cups fresh English peas, shucked (about 3 pounds in pod)
3 tablespoons Kerrygold unsalted butter
4 tablespoons heavy cream
5 tablespoons creme fraiche
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 ½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt, plus more for blanching
In large pot, bring water to simmer and add about 1 tablespoon salt per quart. Add shucked peas, and simmer approximately 1 ½ to 2 minutes, depending on size. Do not cool. Add hot peas to food processor along with all remaining ingredients and pulse until desired consistency is achieved.