Working with what you've got. And marvel at the beauty of simple things. Two lessons that apply to life and to cooking. Never before had I realized the many valuable life lessons that can be learned, or rather practised, in the kitchen. Working with what you've got... well, that's never been an easy one for me. I saw this quote recently that says it all: "What screws us up most in life, is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be." Funny how well this applies to cooking, isn't it? Trying to follow a recipe religiously and match some perfect picture in a cookbook just never seems to work. It's a skill, to be able to trust oneself enough to let go of the picture in your head, and follow your gut. If that skill can be practised - and taught - in the safe environment that is the kitchen, all the better.
This recipe came out of both these lessons. I have been in Los Angeles for 15 years and had never before seen fresh English peas for sale. Maybe I just wasn't looking. But imagine my thrill when I saw them for sale at the Farmer's Market last week. And the simplest recipe was the only way to let their perfection shine.
Speaking of souls smiling, I wanted to share an excerpt from a wonderful French book translated into English under the title We Could Almost Eat Outside - An appreciation of life's small pleasures by Phillipe Delerm. It is collection of short stories, one of which is called "Helping shell peas". You can read the whole thing here, but here's a teaser:
Soon an invisible metronome will lull you into the cool hypnotic rhythm of shelling peas. The operation itself is deliciously simple. Use your thumb to press down on the join and the pod instantly opens itself, docile and yielding. For reluctant peas who disguise their youth with shriveled skin, use the nail of your index finger to make an incision that will rip open the green and expose all the moisture and firm flesh beneath. You can send those little green balls rolling out at the push of a finger. The last one is unbelievably tiny. Sometimes, you can't resist crunching it. It tastes bitter, but fresh as an eleven o'clock kitchen where the water runs cold and the vegetables have just been peeled - nearby, next to the sink, naked carrots glisten on the dish towel where they've been left to dry.
There's a lot to be said about fresh peas, vs. frozen or canned. They just don't compare. So sure, you could go with that can of peas and carrots in your pantry, or, should you be lucky enough to come across some fresh peas in the pod, you could make this simple dish, and believe me, you will savor the difference with every bite.
Fresh peas and carrots jardinièreRecipe by my mother
Age for babies: I would give this at 6-8 months pureed, and 8-10 months for a great finger food.
2 lbs fresh English peas in the pod, shelled
1 bunch of new carrots, peeled and sliced
12 pearl onions (4 red, 4 yellow, 4 white, peeled but left whole)
2 or 3 leaves of butter lettuce
3 sprigs of thyme (remove stems, use only the tiny leaves)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, left whole)
1 oz butter
Salt & pepper
Melt the butter in a pot (don't let it get brown). Throw the peas in the warm butter and stir until the peas have become bright green.
Then add the sliced carrots, pearl onions, lettuce, garlic cloves. Add salt and pepper and stir.
Add 1/2 cup of warm water, cover and let simmer on low heat for 35-40 minutes. (Check that there's enough water during cooking, there should always be a bit of water at the bottom, if not, add another 1/2 cup of hot water.)
It goes very well with meats like lamb or duck.