Peas

A lead­ing Lon­don restau­ra­teur gushes about a sim­ple green seed.

Esquire (Singapore) - - FEATURE -

“We lived very sim­ply—but with all the es­sen­tials of life well un­der­stood and pro­vided for—hot baths, cold cham­pagne, new peas and old brandy.”

—Win­ston Churchill

Civil­i­sa­tion has a lot to an­swer for. When the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion picked up pace at the start of the 19th cen­tury, we burned fos­sil fu­els with aban­don, rub­bing our hands together glee­fully and con­grat­u­lat­ing our­selves on our mastery of sci­ence, ad­vance­ment of in­dus­try and in­creased wealth. Mech­a­nised pro­duc­tion, steam tur­bines, in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines—we had it all and we were go­ing to damn well use it wher­ever we jolly well could.

Fast for­ward 200 years and we have flat­tened the rain­forests, de­stroyed the coral reefs, dis­solved the ozone layer and poi­soned the oceans with plas­tic. Worse still, half the planet is dy­ing from hunger or treat­able dis­eases, while the other half has an obe­sity cri­sis and patents the drugs the first half need.

Although civil­i­sa­tion’s food crimes are cer­tainly less heinous, they are nonethe­less still up­set­ting. In­stant cof­fee: I’m look­ing at you. A prod­uct that bears such scant re­sem­blance to the source ma­te­rial, it re­ally de­serves a dif­fer­ent name. Bran flakes: what the hell is go­ing on there? Hu­man­ity has some­how man­aged to cre­ate a break­fast ce­real that tastes ex­actly like card­board. (I don’t even know, hand on heart, what bran flakes are made from. Is it saw­dust?) And Spam: just don’t get me started. The philistines be­hind the in­ven­tion of this Franken­stein’s mon­ster of a food­stuff de­serve noth­ing less than be­ing fed into the grinders that pro­duce it. Even the word makes me shud­der. Is it a port­man­teau of “spu­tum” and “ham”?

En­ter: the pea. Such a joy­ous ex­pres­sion of sum­mer. Ver­dant, vi­brant veg­eta­bles that are so thrillingly sweet that the best way to eat them is raw, straight from the pod, while still stand­ing in your wellies in the veg patch. The sat­is­fy­ing pop as you bite into fresh peas makes me beam from ear to ear. Peas are the best ex­am­ple I know of the majesty of na­ture; pure per­fec­tion in the plant king­dom. Why then, dear God, would you de­cide to in­car­cer­ate them in a can? Tinned peas are the most com­pelling in­di­ca­tion that civil­i­sa­tion has lost its way. Fur­ther­more, if I were a re­li­gious man, I might say they were proof that Satan is real.

This recipe is a glo­ri­ous cel­e­bra­tion of flavours us­ing the last of the sum­mer’s English peas with plump, sweet scal­lops. It’s a heav­enly col­lab­o­ra­tion that I first en­coun­tered in the 1990s at Row­ley Leigh’s ground­break­ing Not­ting Hill restau­rant, Kens­ing­ton Place. Like all per­fect part­ner­ships, it stays in the gus­ta­tory mem­ory long after the taste has dwin­dled. Come to think of it, it’d go rather nicely with Churchill’s sug­ges­tion of a glass of cold cham­pagne, too.

Serves four

In­gre­di­ents

• 800g English peas in their pods (to yield 400g peas)

• Small hand­ful mint leaves, finely shred­ded

• 100g un­smoked pancetta, cubed

• 20 fresh diver-caught scal­lops

• Large hand­ful pea shoots

• Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

• Flaky sea salt

• Freshly ground black pep­per

Method

1 Start by pod­ding the peas. Try to re­sist the very strong temp­ta­tion to eat them as you go. If your willpower is any­thing like mine, you may want to buy 20 per­cent more than you need to com­pen­sate for those you snack on.

2 Bring a pan of salted wa­ter to a fierce boil and throw in the peas for no more than 1min. Drain and run un­der a cold tap for 1min un­til cooled. Shake off any ex­cess wa­ter and trans­fer the peas to a large pes­tle and mor­tar. Add the shred­ded mint, a cou­ple of pinches of flaky sea salt crunched be­tween your fin­gers, and a good glug of olive oil. Briefly mash into a very coarse paste. You should still be able to see the shape of the crushed peas. Test for sea­son­ing, ad­just if nec­es­sary, and set aside. 3 Heat a lit­tle olive oil in a heavy-bot­tomed fry­ing pan and gen­tly fry the pancetta cubes un­til golden brown and just start­ing to crisp. Drain on kitchen pa­per and set aside.

4 Place a well-oiled grid­dle pan over a medium to high flame. Brush the scal­lops with olive oil and sea­son with a pinch of salt. Fry for a minute each side un­til you see del­i­cate grill lines. Dis­trib­ute the crushed pea mix­ture onto four warmed plates, place the fin­ished scal­lops on top, scat­ter the pancetta and the pea shoots, and driz­zle over a lit­tle olive oil and a twist of black pep­per.

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