Small, sweet and succulent, green peas are at their peak now


"Green M&M;'s," that's what a friend's children call the sweet, succulent young peas that come fresh from the family garden plot this time of year.

In my own, much smaller, garden, I have planted peas for the past two years. Last year the weather got too hot too early, and the crop languished. This year the dozen or so plants are producing valiantly, but I can't seem to get the peas into the

house before they're eaten.

Fortunately, fresh peas are available at groceries and farmers markets, and tiny new peas are almost as good frozen as they are fresh (freezing retains their sweetness).

Also fortunately, peas are as good for you as they are good-tasting. According to "The Corrine T. Netzer Encyclopedia of Food Values," half a cup of shelled peas contains 58 calories, 3.9 gm protein, 10.4 gm carbohydrates, 2.4 gm dietary fiber, negligible fat and no cholesterol. They're high in vitamin A (461 International Units per half-cup), vitamin C (60 mg per half-cup, half the daily recommended dosage) and folicin (folic acid; 47 micrograms per half-cup).

This recipe is from "Verdura, Vegetables Italian Style," by Viana La Place (William Morrow & Co., 1991, $22.95). Ms. La Place notes in the introduction, "If the fresh peas in your market are large and the sugars have turned to starch, you can substitute tiny frozen peas. The pasta is tossed in saffron tinted butter for a brightly colored, creamy finishing touch."

Fettuccine with peas, green onions and mint

Serves four.

Small pinch of saffron threads or saffron powder

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided

6 green onions, trimmed and cut into rings

salt to taste

1 1/2 pounds fresh peas, shelled, or 1 1/2 cups frozen peas


3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

3/4 pound fresh fettuccine

freshly ground black pepper

freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese

Soak the saffron in a very small bowl with 2 tablespoons hot water while you prepare the sauce.

Combine 4 tablespoons of the butter, the green onions, and salt to taste in a medium saute pan. Cook over low heat until the onions are tender. Add the peas and 1/2 cup water, and cook over low heat until the peas are tender, stirring gently from time to time. Stir in the mint and keep warm.

Combine the remaining butter and saffron water in a warm pasta serving bowl. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine in abundant salted boiling water. Drain when just tender, leaving water dripping from strands. Place the pasta in the serving dish, add the sauce and gently toss. Serve sprinkled with pepper and Parmesan cheese.

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