Don’t talk to strangers

Normally I encourage advice giving in the grocery store. I’m the first one to clear up confusion about the benefits of buying a whole chicken and I’ll give a shout out–“FENNEL!”–when I see someone looking at it like a late in the week crossword. I’ll wedge myself between old ladies and the lemon grass to get them to tell me how to cook with it. On Friday, I made a mistake. I was making a fresh pea soup with leeks and lemon zest and thyme and a snap of pepperoncino. I had accepted the fact that I had no time to shell enough of the tiny peas that are available at the beginning of Spring to make soup for a crowd. I had already had the talk with myself that frozen peas were fresh once and I could use the real thing for garnish. I hung my head and started to drag my boots over to the freezer aisle, when I saw them. I gasped so loudly that more than a few people turned around. Piles and piles of crinkly bags of fresh peas already shelled. I ran toward them and hugged them to me. As they sailed from the shelf to my basket, I looked at them closely. They were nearly the size of a chic pea. I knew they weren’t new peas. Ferdinand could have told you they weren’t new peas. The problem was that I wanted them to be new peas. The beige ends and solid as a rock appearance had only a slightly crumbling effect on my resolve. The lady looking at the red leaf lettuce smelled my hope weaken and spoke up. “I’ve had these, and they are delicious,” she said. That was all I needed. My mirage filled with water. I bought them up like cheap real estate.
I have never had to work so hard to get a pea to pass a taste test.
Forget the soup until Spring warms up and brings with it, proper peas. Make a pasta with fewer (and even frozen) peas instead.
Get your pasta water on and add salt to taste like a well seasoned soup. When it comes to a boil, add about half a box of good quality pasta. (de cecco is good.) Strip one or two leeks of their tough outer green bits with your knife and saute in a little butter and olive oil with a sprig of thyme, tarragon and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, and be sure to cook them slowly to prevent them from caramelizing. If you have a lemon, add a thumb’s worth of zest in one piece, minus the pith. When the leek is completely softened, add a few cloves of fresh smashed, fresh garlic. Add a generous cup of peas and a few ladlefuls of homemade stock. Reduce the stock to thicken a little. Take the pasta out when it is still seriously al dente so that it can finish cooking with the peas. Give everything a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley and another sprig of tarragon. Swirl in a good tab of butter and and a handful of Parmigiano Reggiano. Taste for salt and pepper.

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