But all of this changes when I can find them fresh. Fresh peas, at least for this pea-ambivalent, are a whole different animal: they’re bright and sweet and they have the most wonderful crunch that’s impossible to retrieve from a freezer bag, where they always seem to defrost with a sigh and then a slump. The labor involved in shelling them is virtually nothing — no ends that need to be snipped, as with sugar snaps or slipping from skins, as with favas; they get from field to table with the pop of a pod, sweep of your finger and a quick roll off the counter and onto the floor — d’oh! — because like most cute things, they are also troublemakers.
I was intent this year in coming up with a dish that would allow fresh peas to keep their texture as much as possible, while hanging out with complimentary flavors. I went with smoky and lemony to contrast their sweet, springy flavor and tried to keep it mellow enough that the peas would still get to shine. What I ended up with is akin to a crushed pea hummus — just awesome on pita wedges and guaranteed not to make it to dinner time. Mission accomplished.
Crushed Peas with Smoky Sesame Dressing
1 1/2 pounds fresh peas in pods or about 1 1/2 cups already shelled or frozen and defrosted
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika, smoked if you have it
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scallions, thinly sliced
Toasted pitas, cut into wedges, for serving
Cook peas: Have ready a colander and an ice bath, and bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Blanche peas for 30 seconds (if you like them with a real residual snap) to 1 minute (for a slightly more yielding pea) and drain them, then immediately shocking them in the ice water. Drain the peas again and pat them dry on a large towel.
Crush peas: Using a potato or egg-masher (and hopefully not an annoying one like mine, with holes the exact size of peas!), muddler or meat pounder (be gentle!), lightly crush the peas. Aim for mixed textures, some left whole, most in halves and a few a little more broken up. Put them in a large bowl.
Make dressing: Whisk together tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, water, cumin, paprika and salt. You might be tempted, as I was, to swap the water with olive oil but don’t do it — it makes a horrible curdled mess you will be sad to have to toss.
Assemble: Mix peas with about 3 tablespoons of the dressing, to start, then add more to taste. Sprinkle with scallions. Heap pea mixture on toasted pita wedges.