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
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.