Sunday, April 6, 2003

Serve it this week: Sugar snap peas

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

History: Archaeologists have found peas in ancient Egyptian tombs. The ancient Greeks and Romans ate dried peas. In fact, Europeans ate only dried peas until the Italian Renaissance, when the Italians developed piselli novelli, a type of pea eaten unripe and fresh. Fresh peas were commonly served during the Lenten season in France and England as early as the 16th century. Edible pod peas, also called mangetout (eat-all) were first developed by the Dutch and English in the early 17th century. Sugar snap peas, which are a cross between English and snow peas, were probably developed in the late 17th century, but they did not become commonly available until the 1970s.

Buy: Look for fat and full sugar snaps with uniform shamrock-green color. Taut texture and perky dry stem indicate freshness.

Store: Use as soon as possible after purchase. Keep in a perforated plastic bag in refrigerator up to a few days.

Prepare: Before cooking, break the stem end of the pea, then gently pull the length of the pod to remove both "spines." Sugar snaps can be served raw as an appetizer or in salads. Steam sugar snap peas no longer than four minutes or boil them for about two. Stir-fry the peas for two to three minutes. When sugar snaps are meant to be served chilled, it's best to cook the peas before stringing them. After steaming or boiling briefly, "shock" the peas in ice water, then dry and refrigerate until using.

Serve: Raw or briefly cooked sugar snap peas make a good appetizer with a creamy dip. Toss the cold peas into salads or stir-fry with other vegetables. Add sugar snaps to slow braises during the last 10 minutes or so of cooking.

Good for you: Sugar snaps and other edible pods are a good source of carbohydrates, vitamins A, C, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, as well as impressive amounts of phosphorus, iron and potassium.

Penne with Sugar Snaps, Tomatoes and Herbs

9 to 10 ounces sugar snap peas
10 firm-ripe cherry tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons chives or scallion greens, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 pound small penne pasta
3 to 4 tablespoons slivered basil leaves
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons toasted, chopped pine nuts
Pepper, to taste

Rinse peas, then remove strings as necessary (break stem end, then gently pull along the length of the pod to remove spines). Cut each pea in half diagonally.

Quarter cherry tomatoes and combine in serving bowl with sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, olive oil and 2 tablespoons chives.

Bring water to boil and add generous amount of kosher salt. When water returns to boil, place sugar snaps in a sieve and dip into boiling water until not quite cooked, about 1 1/2 minutes. Set peas aside.

Add penne to water and boil 8 to 10 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and add to bowl with tomatoes. Add the sugar snaps and toss to coat. Add 3 tablespoons each basil and parsley; toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with nuts; toss again before serving. Makes 2 main courses.

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Serve it this week: Sugar snap peas