If you happen to be in the South in the late days of summer you might be lucky enough to find some fresh field peas. The pods start to come in at the end of the summer growing season, around the time all of the other vegetables are beginning to go to seed. Black eyed peas may be the most popular, but there are dozens of others with wonderfully zany names: Big Red Ripper, Lady Creme Peas, Crowders, Stick Up, Emily Lees, Rattlesnake, Pole Cat, Pink-Eyed, Zippers, Sea Island Red peas, Whippoorwills and White Acres are just a few.
Field peas vary in shape, size and colour reflecting their diversity. History has it that these peas were brought to the New World from Africa. They thrived in the Southern heat and humidity, growing wild in the rice and corn fields. Peas were subsistence food for poor people and livestock in hard times and eventually evolved to become an important ingredient in Southern food culture, and in particular Soul food dishes.
Field peas are rich and creamy and when fresh, wonderfully quick to cook. In the South, cooks may throw a few okra pods into the cooking water to add texture and a grassy flavour or a ham hock or a few strips of bacon to give the peas a bit of porky savour. Maybe I have been out of the South just a wee bit too long, but I like to keep it simple, so I am fine with adding just a pinch of sea salt so that the taste of the peas shine through.
You can use any southern pea in this recipe, the cooking time will vary by variety and how mature the peas were when harvested. I used fresh White Acres peas that cooked tender in about 15 minutes.
If your local grocer doesn’t sell field peas – and well, most of them won’t, this recipe is just as delicious with butter beans or broad beans – or why not even edamame!
This should serve four, but sitting on the porch of the beach house with the breeze off the ocean and a bottle of French rosé, truth be told, two of us finished it off without much trouble.
Shrimp and Field Peas with Garlic and Lemon Infused Olive Oil
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 cups fresh, White Acre or another type of “field pea” (see above), hulled
- Infused oil:
- 1/3 cup, good quality olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon of smoky paprika, plus 1/2 teaspoon
- 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (or to taste)
- Several branches of thyme or rosemary
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 3 Scallions or Green onions, finely chopped
- Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the peas. Once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the peas are tender, anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes. When the peas are tender, drain and place in a medium size serving bowl.
- Note: As the peas cook, foam may appear on the surface of the water. This is a natural occurrence due to a water-soluble protein in the peas that is released as they heat. You do not need to skim the foam, it will disappear back into the cooking liquid. Keeping the temperature at a simmer will reduce the occurrence of foam.
- While the peas are cooking, prepare the oil.
- Pour the 1/3 cup of olive oil into a wide, heavy skillet, add the crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon of smoky paprika plus the rosemary or thyme. Place the skillet over a medium-low flame and gently warm the oil, stirring often, until the garlic begins to crisp and turn light brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. (Make sure to keep the heat on medium low and an eye on the pan so the garlic does not burn and turn bitter.) When ready, remove the garlic and herbs from the hot oil. Reserve the garlic, but discard the herbs. While the oil is still hot, add the lemon slices, placing them in the pan in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until the slices are tender and starting to brown. Remove and set aside with the garlic.
- Remove the skillet with the infused oil from the heat and set aside.
- When ready to serve, toss the shrimp with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with a little smoky paprika, salt and pepper.
- Return the skillet with the infused oil to the stove and heat to medium high. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are coated in the infused oil and bright pink and opaque, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp.
- Add the cooked shrimp along with the garlic and lemon slices to the peas and toss to combine. Garnish with the chopped scallions and serve immediately.