Give peas a chance! At less than $4 for 500g, they can be smashed and mashed in any number of ways – or turned into hearty winter soups
L oved for their inherent sweetness and the ability to add a welcome pop of colour to even the most beige of meals, frozen peas were initially marketed in Australia as one of a new range of novel “frosted foods” introduced in the late 40s – an era when home freezers themselves were still a novelty. Today, a bag of frozen peas is a default shopping list item for many Australian households.
Unlike other frozen foods, the frozen pea suffers little discrimination in comparison to its fresh cousin, even from the most fervent foodies. In fact, it’s accepted that in Australia, where peas can grow rapidly and lose their sweetness, frozen peas, picked when young and tender and usually snap-frozen within two hours, are often superior in flavour to the short-seasoned, freshly podded pea.
Peas hold their own when it comes to nutrition, containing vitamins A, K, C, folate, thiamine (b1) and iron. They are low in kilojoules and high in fibre and are a great source of plant-based protein.
Astonishingly good value, (at less than $4 for 500g) and a convivial partner to a large number of flavours, peas probably deserve more frequent star-billing on dinner menus than they usually get.
There’s no need to defrost peas, says Alice Zaslavsky, author of In Praise of Veg. “I like to pop them through fritters and frittatas without thawing – the residual moisture means they stay nice and juicy and keep their colour too,” she says.
Mint and peas are a no-brainer and the BillyKart Brisbane owner and chef, Ben O’Donoghue, likes to add mint to an asparagus and pea frittata along with crumbled feta for a salty contrast.
Anna Jones uses mint in her pea fritters along with charred spring onions, sesame seeds, and lemon, while Nigel Slater chooses the mustard-heat of wasabi to amp his up – he does, however, concede you can omit the wasabi (a tube goes for $3.30 at supermarkets) and stir in a handful of chopped mint, parsley and basil if wasabi is not your thing.
At less than $2 a packet, pasta is the perfect low-cost carrier for peas.
O’Donoghue adds peas at the last minute to cooking pasta, drains, then adds cooked bacon (about $4 for 200g) or pancetta (about $4 for 100g) and some gently sweated chopped onions.
Nigel Slater uses orecchiette, the small ear-shaped pasta, in his recipe, blending some of the peas to make a thick green sauce and tossing others in whole, along with salty, fatty nuggets of bacon.
For a vegetarian version, Rachel Roddy leans on parmesan for umami and favours the small rice-shaped orzo pasta, slightly smaller than the peas themselves, adding parsley and mint.
While this might conceivably cause consternation among Italians, O’Donoghue is unapologetic about using frozen rather than fresh peas in the classic northern Italian dish, risi e bisi, which sits somewhere between a risotto and a soup.
“Simmer peas in stock for a few minutes, then take them out and roughly pulse a quarter of them. Cook your rice and add the peas and pea puree in the last few minutes of the cooking process,” he says.
Author of Every Night of the Week, Lucy Tweed, uses peas in her family-friendly “clear out the fridge” version of fried rice, adding them last – just in time to warm through, she says.
Zavaslasky uses basmati rice, saving on washing up with a colourful one-pot pea pilaf, spiced with old-school curry powder, a “set and forget” dish cooked over a low heat, with peas added in the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Felicity Cloake also cooks peas with the residual heat of the pan for her mutter pilau, “to keep them as plump and juicy as possible,” she writes.
Swap your capricious avocado for pea smash, says O’Donoghue.
“I like to let [the peas] defrost naturally then smash them in a mortar and pestle (or you could use a potato masher) with grated parmesan and a bit of olive oil to make them creamy. You can add a bit of torn up mint if you have it. Season, then pile it on toast, nice sourdough if you have it, and top with a poached egg.”
For a smoother mash, O’Donoghue says to sauté finely diced onions, butter and garlic until soft, then add the peas and chicken stock and blend until smooth. “Season and serve under chicken or fish.”
Tweed likes to add defrosted peas to potato in a mash, or, she says, she’ll simply smash them with butter and mint as a side for fish and chips – a more vibrant version of the traditional British pea mash, usually made with starchier marrowfat peas.
For her pea and mint dip with radish salsa, Ravinda Bhogal boils the peas for three minutes, then adds garlic, mint and preserved lemon and blends, while slowly pouring in olive oil to make a silky dip that she tops with sliced raw radishes and crumbled feta.
Yottam Ottolenghi, who says he always has a bag of frozen peas in his freezer, adds tahini and the Middle Eastern spice za’atar (available at most delis and some supermarkets from about $3.50, but you could substitute with Moroccan spice) to his pea dip, and suggests adding any soft herbs you have on hand.
Tweed uses peas to “beef up” a traditional pesto, a neat trick if you have vegetable-phobic children. She recommends dunking basil in boiling, then iced water to preserve the bright green colour, before putting it in a blender with defrosted peas, pine nuts, parmesan, salt, olive oil, and lemon. Use as a dip or a sauce wherever you would regular pesto.
Winter is the perfect time for a substantial and warming pea and ham soup and while most are made with dried split peas, Tweed says she likes to throw frozen peas “into any soup but always into pea and ham as a fresh addition to dry split peas”.
Ottolenghi pairs his pea soup with zucchini (courgette) and basil, while for her speedy vegan version, Anna Jones briefly cooks the peas in coconut milk, adding a stock cube, herbs, lime and spring onions before blitzing.