Spanish cooks love to pair peas with artichokes and you keep coming across them in vegetable and meat stews | ULTIMA HORA

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One of the good things about peas is that they are not one of those veggies that come into season and then disappear before their presence has had time to register. Peas are now back at municipal market stalls and supermarket shelves and they will be with us until September unless the summer is a good deal hotter than usual. As always with peas, it is essential to compare prices at the Mercat d’Olivar and the Santa Catalina market as well as the various supermarket chains.

When cooking peas, never boil them in a big saucepan of water as vitamins and minerals will get lost. Some of the flavour will also go into the water, so we should always use as little as possible. Never shell peas until you are ready to cook them. Put them into a shallow saucepan with a tight fitting lid and add a small amount of water and some butter.

Simmer until they are tender but not overcooked. Serve them very hot with extra butter, salt to taste and freshly milled black pepper. If they are especially young and sweet, do as the French do and have them on their own as a starter. Peas cooked in this way should always be served as soon as possible because they tend to lose flavour and become dry and tough if kept warm for any length of time. Peas have a great affinity for carrots and they make a colourful duo. Spanish cooks love to pair peas with artichokes and you keep coming across them in vegetable and meat stews.

Spanish housewives like to add small amounts of peas to fish, poultry and meat dishes and they are an essential ingredient in many rice dishes. I have never had a paella without a handful of peas in it. You will seldom see a Mallorcan housewife buy a kilo of peas. She hardly ever uses that amount and prefers to buy only what she needs on the day, because she wants them to be as fresh as possible.

Mallorcans are especially fond of peas and a dish we used to find in restaurants all over the island was ‘guisantes con jamón’, or peas with snippets of cured ham. But no one does it any more. I can’t remember the last time I saw it on a menu, although I occasionally come across its cousin, French beans with cured ham. But ‘guisantes con jamón’ is still popular on the mainland. There’ no need to look for ‘guisantes con jamón’ in restaurants because this dish is easily done at home. No special skills are needed, although really fresh peas are essential. Chop or grate a medium sized onion as finely as possible and sauté it until soft in a little virgen extra olive oil in a flattish earthenware dish.

Recipe

For four people add 500 grs of shelled peas, 100 grs of chopped thinly sliced cured ham, and enough water to just cover the peas. Simmer with the lid on until the peas are tender. Do not add any salt as the ham will be salty enough. Drain off any excess liquid, drizzle with virgen extra olive oil to taste and serve immediately. This dish is always eaten as a starter.

In some places, such as Aragón, the onions are sautéed in lard and in Cantabria they prefer butter. The omelette is so versatile it can accommodate just about any vegetable, and peas are no exception. Sometimes the peas are used on their own, but in Madrid other ingredients are added to produce an interesting and tasty variation.

This involves combining the cooked peas with snippets of cooked white asparagus, finely diced cured ham and chopped thinly sliced chorizo. The omelette is made in the usual Spanish flat tortilla style.

When I was young, a popular snack in Scotland was a bowl of cooked dried peas into which vinegar was stirred. If that is a taste you like then you’ll go for ‘guisantes al estilo navarro’.

Recipe

You will need:1 kilo peas in the pod, 4 hard-boiled eggs, small glass vino rancio, pepper, 4 tbsps vinegar (or to taste), olive oil and salt to taste. Vino rancio is rancid red wine that is sometimes used in Spanish cooking. You’ll find it at the supermarket of El Corte Inglés. Shell the peas and cook them until just tender in a suitable saucepan. Slice the hard-boiled eggs and lay them on the bottom of a serving dish. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the cooked and drained peas. Pour in the small glass of vino rancio and cook over a medium heat until it evaporates. Spread the hot peas over the sliced eggs and moisten the surface with a vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

The small peas we know today, what the French call petits pois, were developed by late Renaissance gardeners. These piselli, as the Italians called them, later arrived in Paris and soon became the rage of the Court of Louis XIV. They were at first more highly prized than truffles, and ladies who had dined with Louis, which meant they would have eaten the finest foods available, would have a large helping of petits pois before retiring to bed.

A favourite way of eating them in those days was to bite the cooked peas from their pod after it had been dipped in a rich sauce. An easier and more delicious way of eating them like this is to use melted butter.

Cook the peas in their pods until just tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the pods. To eat them, hold the stem firmly with your fingers, pull the pod through the melted butter, put it into your mouth, then pull it out slowly with the teeth almost closed. The butter and the peas get squeezed into the mouth and the effect is quite sybaritic. I don’t know of a sexier way of eating peas. If you do, let us know about it.