Tuesday 14 October 2014

Peas in our time

And all because the lady wanted to make Risi e Bisi...

For years now our favourite variety of pea has been Pea Wee 65, a petit pois (geddit?  Pea Wee, it's a little guy, it's a wee pea!) from Marshalls. The peas are so tightly packed in the pod that it's not straightforward to get them  out, but it's worth it for the sweet flavour. They may be small, but you get a heck of a lot. They are flattened by being crammed together in the pod, but round out in cooking. We blogged about Pea Wee before, here.

Pea Wee 65 in 2011 - 'scuse fingers

The 2011 Pea Wee crop...

... prepared

This year I made an early sowing of Pea Wee, along with some rather elderly seed of Meteor, an early variety. Disaster. Only one of the Meteor germinated, plus a few of the Pea Wee, and none of the seedlings looked well. This was probably down to the wet spring, plus the age of the seed.

To rescue the situation I looked for an early pea variety and found "Avola" in the Kew Urban Gardens Collection brand of Thompson and Morgan, to re-sow the disaster area. This choice was purely on a whim - I wanted an early variety and I'd never heard of them before, though I have since found them in other catalogues. They grew as well as could be expected between two rows of broad beans, and tasted pretty good.

Avola was claimed to reach maturity - harvestable peas - in 70 days after sowing, but only in the US, for some reason. The Organic Gardening Catalogue, which sells the same variety, claims 60 days. I can confirm that both are totally inaccurate. It's actually 45 days. I made a second sowing of both Avola and Pea Wee 65 on 5th August. I picked the first Avola from the second sowing on 20th September and the first Pea Wee on 9th October.

Avola (left, held up with Y stakes and string) and Pea Wee, taken 10.10.2014

Both varieties need some support, or otherwise flop on the ground for the slugs. We use a length of chickenwire held up by canes or Y-stakes. We were a little late with the Avola and needed string to push the plants off the ground and against the chickenwire,  but once there, they behaved nicely. By 10th October, Avola are finished - though still growing - while Pea Wee are still flowering. Pea Wee is taller, overtopping the chicken wire. and floppier, and much later to harvest.

Pea Wee just about ready to pick, 10.10.2014
Avola are round, fat and sweet-tasting.

Avola - a sample
The air gap at the tip of the pod makes it a piece of cake to extract the peas.
Here we could probably get three crops of Avola in a year. In "mild areas" they can be planted in November for an early spring harvest. We could get away with an overwintered planting, with fleece to hand if a stiff frost is forecast. Most of the Avola went straight into the freezer, and the Pea Wee will probably join them.

But some Avola came out, to  be used to make Risi e Bisi, a classic pea risotto. The recipe comes from The Best of Supercook "Rice and Pasta" going back to the days when I was a member of the Cookery Book Club, the early eighties, I think. This series was amazingly multi-cultural and authentic for its time, with an Italian recipe like this one rubbing shoulders with Biryani and a west indian Hoppin' John, and no curries featuring grated apple or sultanas.

For two people I used:
½lb /250g fresh or frozen peas, weighed without the pods
½lb/250g  round grain (Arborio/arvorio) rice
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2oz /60g dry cure streaky bacon, cut in lardons (I used smoked poitrine)
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional – include if the bacon is not nice and fat)
1oz butter
½ glass (2 fluid ounces / a good splash) dry white wine (I had some rosé left, so used that)
1 pint / 500ml chicken stock, boiling
2oz/60g parmesan, grated (we used the coffee grinder attachment)
Salt and pepper to taste
The bacon must be decent quality, i.e. not pumped up with water. You want crispy, not boiled.

Put the olive oil into a heavy based pan over a medium heat. If not using oil, dry-heat the pan. Put in the bacon, and stir it around until it is crisp and has given up most of its fat. Scoop the bacon out of the fat with a slotted spoon, and lay it on some kitchen paper to dry.

Add half the butter to the fat in the pan. When it has stopped sizzling, add the onion. Stir and cook the onion until it is soft and translucent, but stop before it starts going brown. Reduce the heat a little and add the rice and peas, and stir them about for about five minutes.

Add the wine and a ladleful of stock (about a third of it). Adjust the heat so the mixture is just bubbling. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Add another ladleful of stock and continue cooking as before. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock until it is all gone. When all the stock has been added, and is all absorbed, check the rice is cooked (it should still have a “bite” but crunchy is definitely Not Done). If it still needs a little more cooking, turn the heat right down, put on a lid and leave the pan for five minutes, then check again. Repeat if necessary.

Stir in the rest of the butter, the parmesan and cooked bacon, add salt and pepper to taste, and heat through for a minute. Serve immediately.

Serving suggestion: a fresh green salad and a dry white wine – Frascati is the classic Italian accompaniment, but a nice Muscadet sur lie would go very well (wow that phrase would have annoyed my English teachers. Fights down urge to edit it immediately). We toasted pisum sativum var. “Avola” in vinho verde.


GaynorB said...

This looks wonderful and I'll bet it tastes delicious!

Tim said...

It was!
It did!!

Colin and Elizabeth said...

What a delicious plateful that looks! And that's some pea harvest!