With a long, drawn out spring this year, we’re still enjoying some of the season’s ephemeral greens, such as pea greens and asparagus. Catch them at the farmers’ market while you can, as their appearance is brief and fleeting, and create a meal that satisfies cravings for something tonic and light, but also luxurious.
Pea greens, also known as pea shoots, can sometimes be found referenced in European gardening books, but are more widely known as in Asian cuisines. Traditionally, pea greens are the first leaves and tendrils of the snow pea plant, with the small white blossoms or buds sometimes included. When harvested while young, they are still tender enough to be eaten raw, as in a salad or as a garnish. They may also be used in soups, quickly steamed or stir-fried, or barely wilted with a bit of olive oil and garlic.
To prepare pea greens, remove any coarse stems, rinse quickly under cold water, drain and spin-dry. Pea greens are extremely perishable; once you’ve brought a tangle of them home, plan to use them within 1 to 2 days of purchasing. Though considered a spring delicacy, pea greens make a return in fall when planted for a late harvest.
Tasting very subtly of peas, the greens go well with other delicate flavors. I wanted to make something that brought out their brightness, and improvised a kind of pesto based on this scallion oil. I used the pesto to dress some fresh locally-made pasta (from here or here), and finished the dish with a scatter of toasted pine nuts. Served alongside some simple oven-roasted asparagus and a wedge of lemon from a friend’s indoor tree made for a meal worth waiting all year for!
Pea Greens Pesto
4 cups pea greens (about 4 large handfuls)
A couple of scallions or chives
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil (determines amount of pesto)
A squeeze of lemon juice or, alternatively, a few leaves of lemon verbena
Pinch of salt
- Toss everything in a blender or food processor, and process until silky smooth.
- Adjust consistency of sauce by adding more greens or oil; it should be looser than a traditional basil pesto.
- Keep a light hand when seasoning to keep the flavors fresh. Too much salt will dull the taste, as will adding any cheese.
- This pesto can be made ahead of time, but do use it the same day when the flavors are most alive.
- Next time, try pairing the pea greens with some mint or green garlic in place of the scallions.
Note: To oven roast asparagus, wash and break off tough part of the cut ends. Spread the spears on a shallow baking pan, drizzle with some olive oil, and rub it in to make sure the asparagus are evenly coated. Place the pan on a rack set close to the broiler, and broil until the asparagus are tender and starting to get crackly at the tips. To save myself from burning them, I usually roast the asparagus before tackling the rest of the meal, and set them aside once they’re done. For seasoning, a bit of salt, maybe some lemon juice, is really all you need.