As day follows night, our first dinner following the arrival of peas in the farmers’ market is ... peas. Lots of them. Usually cooked with bacon, spring onions, lettuce and butter in a manner nowadays called à la française (the old-fashioned recipe for petits pois à la française is somewhat different), and eaten with a spoon and a slice or two of buttered grilled bread.
This year followed the pattern: peas and grilled bread, with the summer’s first local strawberries for dessert. One of the great annual rituals.
After Jackie and I shelled the peas, I did something I do occasionally – rarely more than once or twice a season: I salvaged the emptied pods and made a light broth for cooking, say, risotto. (As best I recall, I picked up the notion of this economical practice from a late-1970s cookbook by the French chefs Jean and Pierre Troisgros.) Over time, I’ve tried several methods, including the use of a pressure cooker, and this year the result was good enough to share.
You will need a food mill and a food processor (though the latter could be replaced by a knife and a lot of patience). You will also need modest expectations: This is a lightly flavored broth perfect for risotto, to which it imparts a gentle but palpable pea flavor and does not mask the flavor of the rice. And if there is one thing you should be able to taste in a risotto it is rice. You’ll find other uses for it too, and it freezes well.
I strongly recommend the addition of a little piece of dried kombu seaweed: It enhances the pea flavor without making the broth taste oceanic.
As to that risotto, make it in the usual way, employing warmed, salted pea-pod broth and adding fresh peas (a handful? a cup? two cups? – as many as you like, up to a point) two to five minutes before the rice is done, depending on the age and size of the peas. In fact, really tiny super-fresh ones can go in just as you take the risotto off the heat and let it stand for a couple of minutes before beating in butter and parmesan.
From each pod remove the stem and as much of the stringy spine as comes along with it. Tedious but necessary work.
Wash the pods well, drain them and, working in batches, chop them to medium fineness in a food processor, or do it by hand with a chef’s knife.
Over high heat, bring 3 cups water to the boil in a saucepan that will hold the chopped pea pods with room to spare.
Add the pea pods, the kombu (optional but recommended) and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add enough additional hot water to submerge the pods, but not by too much.
Bring back to the boil, lower the heat to medium, and cook at a lively simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the kombu.
Set a food mill fitted with the finest screen over a bowl. Strain the contents of the saucepan through the mill (using it as a colander) and return the liquid to the pan or another bowl and set it aside so it doesn’t spill and/or burn you once you start cranking. Put the mill back over the bowl and, working in two or three batches, crank away, forcing as much of the pods’ flesh into the bowl and leaving behind the tough fibrous parts.
Combine the liquid and the yield from the food mill, being sure to scrape all the good puree from the bottom off the mill.