In praise of (frozen) peas

Last updated 11:45 01/10/2012

For the most part, fresh is always best when it comes to meat, fish, and, especially, vegetables. But I reckon there is one glaring exception to this rule - frozen peas. They are the most successful frozen vegetable.

Even now that we are close to the season where they will be available fresh in the pod, and even though podding fresh peas is a fun kitchen chore, I still prefer the frozen variety. Given that they are snap-frozen as they are picked, frozen peas maintain that delightful fresh flavour and colour all the way to the table, whereas while I love eating fresh peas raw out of the pod, I reckon they always taste a little "woody" when cooked.

Frozen peas are an absolute kitchen staple for me. If I have frozen peas, then I have an almost instant way to add freshness, colour, and a little popping burst of flavour to a meal - they are hugely versatile. I like to use peas with a pasta featuring parmesan (or feta) with lemon, mint and (when it's available fresh) asparagus, or added to a carbonara with egg, black pepper and crispy bacon, for a bit of zing to cut through the richness.

I like to add them to an aloo gobi or other type of curry - I have done this a lot lately, what with being a bit fixated on Indian food. If I don't have any fresh herbs, they will make an adequate substitute for fresh herbs such as parsley or coriander (though they are of course good as well as the herbs). They are also lovely in a pie, especially bacon and egg, or fish pie, and I like them in macaroni cheese.

When you are operating with a limited kitchen (the renovations, again, yawn...) you also appreciate that they only require thawing in boiling water, or steaming over another pot, rather than outright cooking. This makes it ridiculously easy to add them to a salad - I always reckon a "green" salad looks classy - peas, with rocket leaves, parsley or coriander, maybe some pea shoots if you have them. Fresh tasting, but also robust enough to stand up to being served with a steak, or fish, or haloumi.

They are also a classic UK accompaniment to fish and chips - especially when smashed up to make the classic "mushy peas". One of the most memorable times I have had mushy peas was at the pie cart at Woolloomooloo, "Harry's Café de Wheels" - a pie floater! A pie, with a dollop of mashed potato on top, then some mushy peas, then a squirt of sauce - sounds horrid, but tasted pretty damn fine after a night on the sauce in the big smoke. Seriously, you've not lived until you've copped a hot armful of pie gravy, peas and sauce while devouring one of these babies.

Using a process similar to mushy peas, it is astonishingly easy to turn frozen peas into a cheap, delicious and fairly sophisticated dip or topping for bruschetta by blitzing them with mint, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and maybe some feta or parmesan - remember, however, to give them a decent seasoning with salt and pepper before you serve, and that the lemon juice will turn the peas a little brown with time, which doesn't make them taste bad, but looks a little unappealing - do it at the last minute if you can.

Nigella Lawson proudly declared that fellow UK food writer and TV presenter Nigel Slater referred to her as "The Queen of Frozen Peas" - she is also a fan. They are a thoroughly excellent, effective and affordable product that I reckon no home should be without. And so, for once, I reckon there is no shame in using something so easy and versatile - gimme frozen peas, I will give you something appealing, or, at the very least, edible.

Frozen peas - a kitchen essential? Other frozen veges you rate? Any suggestions as to how you like to use them? And - anyone else been to that pie cart?!

Picture: Jina Lee

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