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Fresh food bountiful at SCV farmer's markets

Posted: May 14, 2009 8:06 p.m.
Updated: May 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Yes, it's true, shelling peas can be found at area farmers' markets.

I am always thrilled to watch the seasons unfold through produce, and am keenly aware of how much better food tastes when we truly long for it, when we fantasize about that first taste after so many months without.

There is much truth to the old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I am excited about the appearance of peas, because I know that in just a couple of short months the market will be bustling with vendors selling all sorts of wonderful things like stone fruits, watermelons and blueberries.

We are doubly lucky to have two pea harvests here in southern California - one in the spring, and a smaller one in the fall.

As I child I always hated peas. But then again, I never tasted a fresh one, only the frozen variety (usually mixed with carrots). They were grayish green, mushy and tasted - well, they tasted about as appetizing as they looked.

But peas plucked fresh from the pod are a wonder indeed and a true harbinger of spring. Cooked properly, they burst in the mouth with a sweet earthiness that is a far cry from the overcooked frozen variety of my childhood.

Fresh peas are best when purchased from farmers' markets, because they need to be eaten soon after they are harvested or they become starchy. To prepare them they need only to be plucked from their pods just before you are ready to eat them and then given the very briefest dunk in a simmering pot of water.

One pound of peas in their shells turns out to be about a cup full of actual peas when all is said and done. You won't regret the minor trouble to shell them, and if you have small children, like I do, it is a perfect way to keep them busy and out of your way in the kitchen.

This meal not only tastes incredible, but it comes together in about 10 minutes, which makes it ideal for busy weeknights.

Pasta with Peas and
Sausage Meatballs

Serves 4
1 pound of fusilli (corkscrew pasta)
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce (TJ's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara is great)
1 T olive oil
1 pound of Italian sausage in casing
1 C freshly shelled peas
Handful of chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmesan cheese
Cook one pound of fusilli according to package directions in a pasta cooker with a removable insert (you will use the leftover pasta water to boil the peas). Meanwhile, heat tomato sauce in a medium saucepan. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Pour in 1 T of olive oil and when hot, squeeze out from its casing plops of Italian sausage into the pan, forming mini meatballs (about the size of a walnut is good). They shouldn't look round and perfect, we are going for a rustic look. Brown meatballs on all sides and continue to sauté until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. When the pasta is done, drain it and pour it out into a large bowl and toss with enough of the hot marinara sauce to moisten. Put 1 C freshly shelled peas into the boiling pasta water and cook until they return to the surface, which should take less than 30 seconds. Pour pasta out onto a platter, top with meatballs, blanched peas, fresh basil leaves and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
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