Fresh summer peas are really a southern thing. Up north we have sugar snap peas and snow peas, but the idea of fresh, shelled, green peas and beans were not really anything I grew up with. Oh, I may have heard of other children being forced to eat peas, but my mother – due probably to the fact that she didn’t like them herself – never made us eat them. And even if they were eaten up north in other families’ households, they just don’t seem to have the cult-like following summer peas have down here in the south.
My dear mother would be proud, as I held out almost three years down here before I gave in to the pea cult. But the pea/bean stand at the Nashville Farmers’ Market has a homey charm I can’t quite withstand. Plus I had my brand new Frank Stitt cookbook, Southern Table, waiting to be cracked open and put to good use. If you don’t have this cookbook, you need to buy it – now. Mr. Stitt not only provides recipes for his fabulous dishes, but he holds forth on all the wonderful southern ingredients that people take for granted – like corn, peaches, and, of course, peas.
Mr. Stitt suggests using various types of peas I had never heard of to make his pea cakes – chowders, pinkeyes or butter peas. After consulting with the pea lady at the farmers’ market, I went with limas, which she assured me are also called butter peas. I’ll be honest, in the end, I’m not sure what kind they were, but when I cooked them up with some thyme, bay leaf and onion they tasted absolutely delicious. For a moment I considered stopping right then and forgetting about adding in the cornbread, egg, and chives and just eating the warm, fresh peas straight out of the pan.
But I persevered – I sacrificed my delicious peas to make pea cakes and I was glad I did. Savory and tender and with a nice crispy fried crust, they were like nothing I had ever had before. C and I devoured the first batch while we were waiting for the second to fry and we continued eating them all through evening. They were absolutely delicious. And as for southern peas, I can honestly say this northerner has been converted to the fresh summer pea cult – I can’t wait to make them again.
Taken from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table
2 cups cooked peas, such as pink eyes, butter peas or crowder (recipe below), cooking broth reserved.
1 cup crumbled corn bread or more if needed
1 T. chopped chives
1 T. minced hot red chili
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. AP flour, plus extra for dredging
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg beaten
2 T. vegetable oil
Puree 3/4 cups of the peas with 1/4 cup of the reserved broth in a blender until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl, add the remaining whole peas, 1 T. reserved broth, the corn bread, chives, hot pepper, olive oil, flour, salt, pepper and mix well. Add the egg and mix again. You may need to adjust the “wetness” by adding a little more corn bread or broth to the mixture; it should be moist enough to hold together.
Form 8 to 10 small cakes by shaping about 3 T. portions of the mixture into 2-inch-wide disks, compressing the mixture with your fingers and patting it together.
Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Dust the cakes with a little flour and gently place them, in batches if necessary, in the hot oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve hot.
Cooked Butter Beans
6 cups of water
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
4 savory spring
1 pound small green butter beans, picked over and rinsed
2 T. fruity extra virgin olive oil, bacon fat, or butter
Freshly cracked black pepper
Combine the water, onion, herbs, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the beans, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans rest in their liquid for 10 minutes. (For the Pea Cakes you can stop here)
To serve cooked – sprinkle with herbs and drizzle with olive oil. Finish with cracked black pepper.