Peas with mint, bacon and pasta

Fresh peas with bacon, mint and orecchiette. (Photo and styling by John Houser III, Special to The Baltimore Sun / June 2, 2012)

Fresh peas are very hard to find at a supermarket, but you can find them at area farmers' markets from mid-May until the end of June.

Be forewarned: At the Sunday farmers' market under the Jones Falls Expressway, you have to arrive early and stand in a line as many as 50 people deep to get the peas from Woodside Greenhouse. But the line moves quickly, and your patience will be rewarded with one of the most verdant tastes of a new summer.

Fresh raw peas have a sweetness that is tempered by a grassy bite, and they taste great by themselves with a glug of extra-virgin olive oil, chopped mint leaves and a pinch of sea salt. This recipe is similar, but the peas are cooked a little to relieve them of that vegetal bitterness. The addition of bacon adds crunch and a savory umami taste. Orecchiette, the round pasta that means "little ear" in Italian, completes the dish and gives it body. Its heft and shape are the perfect vehicle for peas because they act like little bowls that lovingly present their emerald orbs to you in every forkful.

Fresh peas with bacon, mint and orecchiette

Makes: 4 servings

8 ounces fresh peas

8 ounces smoky bacon, cut into 1/4-inch lardons

8 ounces dried orecchiette pasta

1 cup packed mint leaves- chopped

Pecorino Romano cheese

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

Black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water (it should taste like seawater) to a boil. Blanch the peas in the boiling water for 1 minute. Transfer the peas to a bowl of ice water to cool. Cook the bacon lardons until crispy. Reserve one tablespoon of the bacon fat and strain the bacon. Add the orecchiette to the boiling water. Stir to keep from sticking and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then strain the orecchiette. Heat the bacon fat and olive oil in the pot until it starts to shimmer. Add the orecchiette and stir to coat. Add the pasta water and stir vigorously. Add the peas, bacon, mint and black pepper. Stir to combine and serve immediately. Top with the shaved cheese.