Peas for Picky Eaters

I won't mince words: Picky eaters make me cranky. By picky eaters, I don't mean those who refuse certain foods because of shellfish allergies, lactose intolerance, or ethical vegetarianism. I mean those who won't eat raw fruit, or soft cheeses, or meat when it's on the bone. When I feel this crankiness setting in, I imagine my picky interlocutor demanding, "What's it to you?" Noting to myself the lack of an answer to that question, I smile politely as my lunch companion systematically picks every bit of tomato and green pepper out of her salad.

I know that there are certain tastes and textures more challenging to appreciate than others. The chalkiness of liver. The burn of wasabi. The bitterness of salt-cured olives. Let's say you've sampled brussels sprouts on three separate occasions, each time prepared differently by different people, and each time struggled to get them down. I won't fault you for refusing them the fourth time. But if you're a thirty-something adult who has never, at least to his knowledge, eaten a raw apple because of its <shiver at the thought> "crunchiness," you will likely make me cranky. It so happens that I am married to just such a man, who, in addition to several other fruits, cannot bring himself to eat anything white, cold, and non-sweet. (Vanilla ice cream: Good. Sour Cream: Very bad).

My marriage survives when I remind myself that I wasn't always such an omnivore. My parents endlessly find occasion to recount a certain mantra I adopted as a five-year old:

"I don't like meat. I don't like onions [pronounced ongyons]. I don't like to go to bed early. I'm just a different person."

Considering that two-thirds of this first effort to articulate my own identity as an autonomous person centered on my own food pickiness, I should really be more tolerant. I remember fishing cooked onions out of spaghetti sauces and soups...not an easy task, considering that they're virtually transparent. I wrinkled my nose at slabs of meat, unless doused with copious amounts of Worcestershire sauce and--I can't explain this one--sprinkled with Butter Buds (a butter-flavored powder that came in a shaker). I was also a child insomniac, hence the abhorrence of bed time, but that subject is beyond the realm of food neuroses.

I also hated peas. In my defense, many children do, and it's understandable, considering that they almost always emerge from a can. My mom didn't serve peas enough for them to feature on my short list of abject food, but I do recall, having been forbidden to leave the table while my peas went untouched, swallowing the little green pills whole among gulps of milk.

It wasn't until the summer of 2002 that this pea-aversion was overturned. Shopping for produce in Rome's Campo de Fiori isn't easy for a sometimes shy newlywed who knows practically no Italian. I pointed and nodded and smiled and went home laden with vegetables in strange quantities. One evening, I found myself toting home a small bag of pea pods. I wasn't even sure what to do with them, they seemed so different from the peas I had pushed around on my plate as a child. In the end, I didn't do anything with them, but munched them raw, plucked straight from the pod.

I emitted a little squeal when I saw that my most recent Kretschmann's farm box contained a bag full of peas. As soon as I got them home, I started shelling, mulling over possible preparations and munching a pea from every third or fourth pod. What I came up with is really too simple to be called a recipe, and that's precisely why I knew it wouldn't do me or my peas wrong. Sauteed in olive oil for a few quick minutes, these peas don't forsake their fresh, grassy crunch. Add a green onion or two, a splash of lemon juice, a few shavings of parmesan, some torn basil, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. What you get is a bowl of peas that do not in any way resemble their canned or frozen kin. These are peas for pea-haters. I could have easily eaten the whole lot myself, but Patrick, who had never tried sauteed fresh peas, demanded his fair half. Picky eaters unite.

Fresh Peas with Green Onions and Basil
Serves 2 as a side dish, or as a light lunch.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups fresh shelled peas
2 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
a pinch of dried pepper flakes
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup basil leaves, torn into pieces
parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

Have all of your ingredients ready when you start...everything comes together fast, and you don't want to overcook your peas.

1. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and pepper flakes over medium heat.
2. Add peas and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.
3. Add chopped green onions and cook, stirring, for an additional 2 minutes.
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and basil. Remove from heat, and stir to combine.
5. Divide between two bowls. Top with shaved parmesan cheese, and serve.


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