When peas are more than simple peas – they’re vegetable caviar . . .
If you travel to the Basque region between March and June, it is likely that you will meet food-lovers making a special pilgrimage of their own, and not for religious reasons either, but to eat the tiny tear-shaped peas that are harvested from farms which line El Camino de Santiago.
The peas are prized by chefs based in the popular pintxos bars which line the streets of San Sebastian. Known as guisante lágrima in Spain, these peas sell at up to £250 a pound because they are harvested and shelled by hand and their delicate flavour is a result of the farm’s proximity to the sea which imbues the air and soil with a subtle salinity. It can take nearly twenty pounds of pods to produce one pound of shelled peas, earning them the local name of vegetable caviar.
Guisante lágrima aren’t available in East Anglia but as the days lengthen, the pea plants growing on my allotment curl their tendrils around the twigs pushed into the bare earth and begin their steady climb towards the sun. And naturally, my thoughts turn to all the delicious things us cooks can do with them. I’m not snobbish about frozen peas either because modern production methods mean they retain many of their nutrients and this recipe will taste just as good if you’re using them; in fact you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference unless you can guarantee a source of freshly-picked peas.
A bowl of steamed or raw peas with salt and butter is pure heaven but this meal is one of my favourite ways to eat them and like all simple meals it relies on the best-quality ingredients you can find. Choose the freshest, greenest peas and broad beans and indulge yourself with a luxurious butter (there’s some lovely brands that are churned with sea-salt crystals), a fruity olive oil, decent bread and free-range eggs. This is spring on a plate at any time of day and our peas are just as delicious (I think) as their tear-shaped cousins.
100g peas or petit pois
50g small and super-fresh broad beans (podded and skinned)
Extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
4 thick slices of rustic bread, such as sourdough or a bloomer
4 large eggs (fresh eggs poach more neatly)
1 spring onion, white and pale-green parts fine-sliced
Salt (preferably sea salt, I use Maldon or Halen Môn) and freshly-ground black pepper
Place four plates to warm.
Steam or boil the peas until they are fork-tender and steam (or boil) the broad beans until they are fork tender too, then drain them and run them both under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Now pod and skin the broad beans once they are cooled and place the peas and skinned beans together in a bowl with enough salt and pepper to season and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Roughly crush them with the back of a fork, aiming for a chunky mash, not a smooth purée. Now chop the white and pale-green part of the spring onions into tiny pieces and set this aside.
Put a pan of lightly salted water over a low heat and break the eggs into ramekins. When the water is gently simmering, create a whirlpool in it with a spoon and when you’ve got it swirling nicely around, drop two of the eggs into the middle. Cook both of them gently for 2-3 minutes then use a slotted spoon to scoop them out. Place the poached eggs onto kitchen paper to drain and then repeat this process to cook the other two eggs. Keep the first two warm by covering with a plate.
As the last two eggs are poaching, toast or grill the bread and when it is out of the toaster, butter it liberally and plate it up. Spoon the pea and broad bean mash onto each piece of toast, then gently place a poached egg on top of the pea / bean mash and scatter a few pieces of spring onion on top. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, some flakes of sea-salt and eat.
Nicola Miller is author of nicmillerstales.com blog. Follow her on Twitter - @NicMillersTale