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Snow and Sugar Snap Peas

Snow Peas Mediterranean Style

By Tim Hazell

Snow peas (Pisum sativum) are a variety of garden pea, cultivated throughout the world and eaten whole in its pod while still unripe. The French definition for this type of legume is mange tout, (eat all) and can be applied to both snow and sugar snap peas, although sugar snap pods are slightly more robust.

Unlike field and garden peas, these “eat all” varieties are notable for having tender pods that lack inedible fiber in the pod walls. Snow peas have the thinnest and most delicate casings of all edible pod variants. Two recessive genes known as “P” and “V” are responsible for this trait, reducing the membrane on the inner pod wall and the pod wall’s thickness. Stems and leaves of the immature plants are used as a vegetable in Chinese cooking, stir-fried with garlic and sometimes combined with crab or other shellfish.

Snow peas host beneficial bacteria called rhizobia in their root nodules, which fix nitrogen in the soil. This is termed a “mutualistic” relationship, and it makes them a useful companion plant when intercropped with green, leafy vegetables that benefit from high nitrogen content.

Peas are considered one of our oldest legumes. The general consensus is that domestication originated in central Asia or the Middle East. Carbon dating places sugar snap peas in Thailand and Burma about 9750 BC and at a Bronze Age site in Switzerland around 3000 BC.

Hot pea soup was sold as a street food in ancient Greece. Peas were included in Roman cooking treatises and brought to Europe by nomads and traders who had been heavily influenced by Greek and Roman culinary arts and ingredients. Their long-term storage potential when dried made them a peasant favorite during the Middle Ages, where they were served as an energizing porridge. An elegant hybrid developed during the reign of Louis XIV was christened petit pois.

Austrian scientist and monk Gregor Mendel used peas, which he termed Pisum saccharatum, in his iconic experiments to demonstrate the heritable nature of specific traits. European settlers to America brought their snow and sugar snap, along with field and garden varieties of peas with them.

Snow peas are generally associated with Asian recipes, specifically stir-fries. However, my wife Louise has researched and adapted this wonderful Mediterranean version that I hope you will enjoy with pasta!

 

Louise’s Snow Peas, Mediterranean style

 

Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter or olive oil

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (or herbs of choice; thyme goes well)

1/2 lb snow peas, trimmed

1 tbsp (or more as needed) water

1 extra tbsp olive oil, if needed

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Melt butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat, add garlic, and cook until fragrant. Add preferred herbs and snow peas. Add water, cooking and stirring, until peas are bright green and tender, adding more water if needed. Drizzle in extra olive oil if used, along with the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

 

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