The humble pea heralds the coming of spring and is raised to celebrity status in these fresh dishes. By Bart Beek. Photography by Justin Field
August is the month when the cold days begin to lose their winter chill and temperatures get a little warmer. September is just around the corner and with it, the arrival of spring. And for all us serious foodies, the new season's produce gives us so much inspiration in the kitchen. The variety and freshness bring excitement and lighter meal options after enduring the heavier hearty foods of winter.
What's not to love about spring? It's now we see Northern Territory figs appear, cumquats are on the shelves once again and blood oranges are at their best. In the vegetable department we find pencil leeks, broad beans, spring garlic and the elegant, yet humble pea.
The perfect pea symbolises the arrival of spring and it partners beautifully with so many foods. The pea is sweet and bursting with flavour and when I'm popping peas from their pods, I'm instantly taken back to childhood days in my mother's garden. I still remember the sheer enjoyment I got from eating the raw green gems while standing by her side as she filled a bowl for dinner.
The pea would be one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, but initially it was the dried pea that was consumed. Remember the classic pea and ham soup, thick and bursting with that unique flavour? But for me it's the humble green pea that gets all my attention and what I use in so many dishes.
There are three main types of pea sold in our markets: green peas, snow peas and sugar snaps or snap peas. I love using the growing tips of the pea plant (called pea shoots) in salads and as garnishes for various dishes. They are delicious and partner beautifully with asparagus, butter and bacon. Peas also go well with cream, poultry and lamb and they're magic when teamed up with mint and butter.
This issue's Gourmet celebrates the perfect pea and I've compiled five recipes that use them to good effect. There's a delicious spicy prawn salad with fennel, parsley and peas, which takes just 15 minutes to make. The Calabrian-style spaghetti with hot smoked salmon is amazing and is studded with glistening peas. Something a little heavier, but equally delicious, is my green pea, rocket and bacon risotto. Here, the green pea is matched with green peppercorns, bacon and parmesan.
A very special way of presenting leeks for a big occasion is my braised leeks with pearl couscous and peas. Cook them long and slow and the reward will be amazing. Or, for those who love spring lamb, the asparagus and green pea broth with seared gingered lamb will deliver its magic. It's an Asian broth filled with sweet flavour, popping peas and slices of seared lamb, and it's scented with sesame oil.
And to finish, who can resist a perfect crème brûlée. These cold-served, sweet-set custards with their classic thin caramel tops are impossible to resist. This recipe has coconut cream in its base flavour, which is complemented with mango and roasted flaked almonds. Yum, I'll have two please!
Calabrian spaghetti with hot smoked salmon
This is one of the quickest pastas you can make and also one of the tastiest. No cream or tomato base sauce, just some deliciously flavoured olive oil.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Place the fresh spaghetti into a large pan of salted, rapidly boiling water and cook until just al dente. In a moderately heated flat saucepan, add the olive oil, anchovy fillets, chilli and the garlic. Cook gently for three minutes until the olive oil becomes fragrant and the anchovy fillets have dissolved.
Throw the hot spaghetti through the oil mix and add the hot smoked salmon, dried tomatoes, green peas and parsley. Check for seasoning and serve straight away.
Braised leeks with pearl couscous and peas
This is a favourite dish of mine that's quite simple and rustic, but with beautiful flavours. You can use a vegetable stock, but I love the extra richness you get from the chicken stock. The couscous I use is the Osem brand which comes in a small 250g pack from most good delicatessens. Choose your favourite Moroccan spice mix from the spice section of any supermarket.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
In a saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil, shallots, carrots and celery. Cook well then place the leeks on top and add chicken stock to come half way up. Scatter with small pieces of the butter, season well, cover with foil and place into an oven set at 180ºC for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Place the couscous, water, green peas and Moroccan spice into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir well, turn the heat down, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the stove, gently stir the mix and present with the braised leeks.
Adobo seco prawn salad with peas, fennel, parsley and mint
This spice mix is easy to make and will keep for months in a sealed jar. Adobo seco is a dry rub made of various spices and originates from the Latin American/Caribbean regions and features heavily in Puerto Rican cooking.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Combine one tablespoon of adobo seco with two tablespoons of olive oil and rub into the prawns. Heat a frypan, add a little olive oil and cook the prawns quickly until just cooked. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
Combine together the sliced fennel, cooked cooled peas, parsley and mint. Add in the prawns and dress well with the lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning. Present stacked on four plates and serve.
Green pea, rocket and bacon risotto
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Heat a pressure cooker and add half the olive oil, butter and garlic. Cook on gentle heat for 20 seconds then add in the finely diced onions. Cook until soft then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the remainder of the olive oil into the same pan, heat up and add in the bacon. Fry until crisp, then add in the rice. Stir and cook for several minutes until glossy then return the onions and add in the white wine. Stir well and add in the peppercorns, chicken stock and green peas.
Place the lid on securely and bring up to high pressure. Cook for seven minutes then remove from the heat. Depressurise and open the lid. Stir in the butter, rocket and parmesan cheese and combine well. Allow to rest for several minutes before serving.
Asparagus and pea broth with seared gingered lamb
This is an Asian-style broth with delicious ginger-flavoured lamb. It's a complete meal in a bowl and takes very little time to make. Present with a side dish of steamed rice and a little chilli sauce.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Season the trimmed lamb loin with the grated ginger, salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan, add the vegetable oil and sear the lamb well on all sides, cooking to your desired rareness. Remove from the pan and allow to rest uncovered in a warm place.
To make the broth, place a saucepan on the heat and add in the olive oil, garlic, ginger and spring onion slices. Cook until soft, and then add in the chicken stock, palm sugar and fish sauce.
Add in the peas and asparagus pieces and simmer for three to four minutes, until the peas are cooked. Stir in the sesame oil and ladle the broth into four warmed bowls.
Slice the lamb thinly, place into the bowls and serve.
Coconut crème brûlée with mango and toasted almonds
Crème brûlée means burnt cream and is also known as crème Catalan or trinity cream. It's a sweet and rich set custard topped with sugar and flambéed to form a crunchy toffee top, and it's served cold.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Pre-set the oven at 140°C. Combine together in a saucepan the cream, coconut cream, milk and a split vanilla bean (with seeds scraped out into the milk).
Turn on the heat and bring to just below boiling point. Take away from the heat and allow to sit and infuse for five minutes.
Combine together (using a spoon) in a bowl the egg yolks and caster sugar.
Strain the cream mix and slowly pour into the egg/sugar mix, stirring gently all the time.
Place the ramekins into a baking tray lined with a clean tea towel. Carefully fill each ramekin two thirds full, and then place onto the oven rack. Half fill the tray with boiling water and cook for 40 minutes.
When cooked, the sides should pull away when tilted and the centres should still be wobbly.
Remove from the water bath and allow the custards to cool at room temperature for one hour, then cover and transfer to the fridge.
When ready to serve, sprinkle one tablespoon of Demerara or raw sugar evenly over the top of each. Then to caramelise the sugar using a blow torch, start on the outside and keep moving slowly around, finishing in the middle.
Present with the diced mango and some toasted almond flakes.