The first time I saw a real pea I was sixteen and in France. I was staying with a French family, the Bouchets, who lived the sort of life I hadn’t even imagined let alone dreamed of. They had three houses, one of which had its own park, conveniently dotted across L’Hexagone, two cars and one cleaner. I’d grown up in a semi- then a link-detached (that link was important), we had one car and my Dad’s work van and the cleaners were all of us, depending on the room and the day.
And peas, well peas came in plastic bags out of the freezer, not pods. So when Denise presented me with a colander full of unpodded peas I looked at her with what I hoped was a winning smile, and hoped that she’d explain what I was supposed to do. She’d already turned back to the sink so I had to work it out for myself. Gingerly I peeled the pod away from the peas inside and then, one by one, picked them out and put them in the bowl provided. I was feeling quite proud of myself, and my rather slow progress, until Denise, who’d turned round by now, shook her head in amazement, said something incomprehensible and grabbed the colander from me. With her thumb and her forefinger, she squeezed a pod and emptied it, in the time it took me to pick one up. In a trip full of learning experiences, especially food ones, I remember this one because I felt just like those peas: small and green.
Denise taught me a lot about food on that trip, and subsequent ones, but it took me a long time to lose that sense that I didn’t really know how to deal instinctively with ‘real’ food. Unlike Denise, who could make everything out of nothing and never seemed to look at a recipe, I am at a loss without someone to guide me. But strangely, even though I own a ton of cook books, have spent years cooking, and know that I’m perfectly capable in the kitchen, it is this blog that is changing my attitude. Usually, when I don’t know what to cook and when I have something I need to use up in the fridge, I turn to my books. Just recently though I seem to have become more confident. Tonight, for example, I knew that I had a big bag of fresh peas that needed eating, but I had no idea what to do with them. I scanned all the usual fast-food suspects (Nigel Slater, Donna Hay, Nigella Lawson) but nothing inspired me. I wanted something easy and fast (when don’t I…) and a rummage in the fridge gave me a packet of basil, some lettuce and feta to go with the peas. How hard could it be I thought to turn those into a salad? Not very hard at all it turns out.
You will need (for each person; up or down the amounts depending on your appetite)
A couple of handfuls of fresh peas, podded
A handful of fresh basil leaves, washed
A handful of lettuce leaves (something soft, not Romaine or Cos or, ugh, Iceberg)
About 100g of feta cheese (or a sharp fresh goats’ cheese), cubed
white wine vinegar
some nice bread to eat with it
1. Heat a pan of boiling water. When at a rolling boil, throw in the (podded) peas. Depending on their age, and how many people you make this for, they will take two or three minutes (longer for older peas).
2. Meanwhile mix together the washed basil leaves, lettuce and cubed feta and make a dressing. I mixed together a pinch of crushed sea salt, ground black pepper, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (it was a strongly-flavoured oil so more would have been too much).
3. Drain the peas in a colander. Douse them with cold water quickly. Then mix them with the rest of the salad ingredients. Dress. Eat.