Give Peas A Chance For Meat-Free Monday

Many of us of a cer­tain age were brought up with canned veg­eta­bles. In the pantry sat can stacked on can of var­i­ous veg­gies, from creamed corn to some­thing called “niblets” to canned peas. Perhaps canned veg­eta­bles were pop­u­lar because the can rep­re­sented mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, could be stored at room tem­per­a­ture and locked away in a sub­ter­ranean bunker while the fam­ily waited out a lit­tle black rain.

Of all the canned veg­eta­bles, canned peas were prob­a­bly the worst. Open the can and a pecu­liar aroma would waft out, unlike any­thing of this world, a smell that could ges­tate in the can for untold eons. The colour of canned peas is also its own spe­cial hue, some­thing in between Khaki and bile, and the tex­ture of the canned pea is also oth­er­worldly; there is a rea­son the Brits fancy some­thing called Mushy Peas, but you had to be there.

It is no won­der get­ting a kid to eat a side of canned peas is a her­culean task that would tax the patience of a saint. Neither is it a mys­tery why it took sev­eral years before I could muster up the nerve to revisit the hum­ble pea. And now, fresh peas, pur­chased from the gro­cer or farm­ers mar­ket are about the most beau­ti­ful lit­tle veg­etable imag­in­able. The only prob­lem is, they are only in sea­son for a short time, and that time is a few months away. Thankfully, some­where between the fright­en­ing canned pea and the beau­ti­ful, fresh out of the pod lit­tle emer­ald is a pretty good approx­i­ma­tion to the real thing. Frozen peas.

When buy­ing frozen peas you shouldn’t skimp on qual­ity. There are some brands that are bet­ter than others-to each his own-but a good rule of thumb is this: buy frozen baby peas.

The large peas are often picked well past their prime and are bor­der­line bit­ter. Baby peas are delight­ful. Plump and juicy, they pop when you bite them and are ten­der, bright green lit­tle gems.

The trick is to not over­cook them. Bring your water to a furi­ous boil and add your peas. A few min­utes after the water has returned to the boil your peas will be ready. Strain them and you are good to go; sea­son, maybe add a lit­tle but­ter and chopped mint and chives and eat them right away. Don’t reheat them, they will lose their colour and become wrinkled!

You can also shock them with an ice bath to pre­vent them from over­cook­ing if you are not using them right away, or plan on mak­ing a soup or puree out of them. An ice bath will also make sure they keep their beau­ti­ful vibrant colour.

Here is one of our favourite ways to enjoy this amaz­ing legume, cour­tesy of Martha Stewart. Try this and you will never open another can again. It is the per­fect recipe for a meat-free Monday meal in spring­time when we want green things on the plate. If you’ve got fresh Ontario aspara­gus or fid­dle­heads saute them in the pan with the wild mush­rooms for a beau­ti­ful feast.

 

Save the mushy peas for your great aunt from Cornwall.

 

Pea Flan with Wild Mushrooms

For The Flan

2 table­spoons unsalted but­ter, plus more for ramekins

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup whole milk

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups shelled fresh gar­den peas (from 2 pounds in pods)

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

For The Mushrooms

1/2 stick unsalted butter

10 ounces wild mush­rooms (such as oys­ter, chanterelle, or morel), halved if small, quar­tered if large

2 tea­spoons finely grated lemon zest plus 2 table­spoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges and fine strips of lemon zest, for serv­ing (optional)

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup thinly sliced scal­lions (about 6)

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 table­spoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Make the flan: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously but­ter six 6-ounce ramekins, and place in a roast­ing pan. Combine cream and milk in a bowl.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add 1 table­spoon salt and the peas. Reduce heat, and vig­or­ously sim­mer until peas are very ten­der, about 5 min­utes. Drain, and imme­di­ately trans­fer to a food proces­sor. Add but­ter, 1 table­spoon cream mix­ture, and 3/4 tea­spoon salt. Puree until very smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour puree through a coarse sieve. Measure out 1/2 cup strained puree into a bowl, and whisk in eggs, then remain­ing cream mix­ture. Strain through a fine sieve (this will result in the finest-textured flan). Divide among ramekins.

Bring a ket­tle of water to a boil. Place pan in oven, and add enough boil­ing water to pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake until cus­tards are almost com­pletely set (the cen­ters should still wob­ble, but not be liq­uid), 25 to 30 minutes.

Using tongs, trans­fer ramekins to a wire rack and let cool 30 min­utes. Serve warm, at room tem­per­a­ture, or cool (flans can be refrig­er­ated in ramekins up to 1 hour); dip bot­toms in hot water to loosen before unmolding.

Make the mush­rooms: When ready to serve flans, melt but­ter in a large skil­let over high heat until foamy. Add mush­rooms and lemon zest; sea­son with salt and pep­per. Saute until mush­rooms are golden brown and ten­der, stir­ring once or twice, 3 to 4 min­utes. Stir in scal­lions, and saute 1 minute more. Add cream, and cook 1 minute. Stir in pars­ley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve flans with sauteed mush­rooms and lemon wedges. Garnish with lemon-zest strips.

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