Peas can be a problem. They are not exactly cheap, even in the height of the season, and it would be disappointing if the effort to pod a lot of very small peas and then present them lightly boiled, tossed in a little butter, with perhaps a sprig of mint, passed without appreciation. There was a time when such a dish would be an incomparable treat and one of the finest delicacies the vegetable world had to offer. Sadly, frozen peas have debased the currency. Those little peas, les vrais petits pois, have to be really exceptional for the diner not to be rather blasé about them: peas are something you give the kids for their supper since they are quick, easy and one of the few green things the little blighters will eat.
Today’s chefs, in an effort to produce the überpea, now laboriously divest each pea of its skin to reveal the bright green kernel within. I only hope their efforts are recognised by diners, although they are, of course, the efforts of a hapless commis chef. I remain unconvinced that anyone ever ate a pea and thought how much better it would be without its pesky skin.
However, the pea problem remains. I have a sort of answer, happened upon during an idle moment in the cold room, podding a pea and, as is my wont, eating the fresh raw peas as a prelude to breakfast. The fact is that the real McCoy, freshly podded, are beautiful to eat raw. They have another unimpeachable merit: they could never be mistaken for a frozen pea. However good a frozen pea may be, the act of freezing robs them of their raw integrity.
I hit upon the simple expedient of tossing raw peas through a cos salad, making a sympathetic dressing and plastering the result with shavings of Parmesan cheese. It may not have been the greatest creative moment of my life, but I am still pleased with the result. It has become a staple in our household and even something that we have taken along to parties when asked to bring a “salad or something”. Original salads – as opposed to a pile of leftovers thrown on top of some “mixed leaves” – are comparatively rare. It is hardly an improvement on the cos’s greatest contribution to gastronomy and, with that in mind, I also append my recipe for a good Caesar salad.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Cos salad with peas and Parmesan
A good butterhead lettuce, with a full, crisp heart, can also be used, preferably just broken into segments after removing the stalk. Serves six to eight.
2 heads of cos (romaine) lettuce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp yoghurt
Juice of a lemon
½ tsp flaked sea salt
½ tsp crushed black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1kg peas in the pod
75g Parmesan cheese
● Trim the green tops of the salads and remove any blemished outside leaves before cutting them in ribbons 1cm wide down to the stalk. Soak in cold water and then spin dry and place in a salad bowl. Make the dressing by whisking together the mustard, yoghurt and lemon juice with the seasoning before adding the two oils.
● Pod the peas and scatter them over the salad leaves in the bowl. Pour the dressing over this salad and then, using a potato peeler, shave the Parmesan cheese over the surface. Serve with some fresh crusty bread.
There are many crimes committed against Caesar salad and I have been guilty of one of them. The addition of marinated anchovies I now think slightly infra dig, although there are many who like them. But please no grilled chicken, no shavings of Parmesan and it really should be a crisp but sweet lettuce – only cos or, at a pinch, little gem, really pass muster.
3 slices white bread
5 cloves garlic
Olive oil for frying
2 heads of cos lettuce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 anchovy fillets
2 tsp white wine vinegar
Juice of ½ a lemon
3 drops Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp olive oil
50g Parmesan cheese
● Cut the bread into little cubes. Peel and halve four of the garlic cloves and put in a frying pan with 100ml of olive oil. Heat slowly and then add the bread. Turn gently, increase the heat and continue to toss and turn the croutons until they are a beautiful golden brown and are heavily perfumed with the garlic. Drain in a colander and discard the oil.
● Prepare the salad leaves as in the preceding recipe. Put the remaining garlic clove, peeled, the egg, mustard, anchovy fillets, vinegar, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce into the bowl of a blender, together with a good milling of pepper. Whizz for a moment before adding the two oils, then blend again.
● Toss the lettuce with this dressing in a large bowl, sprinkle with the croutons – minus their garlic – and finally grate the Parmesan cheese finely over the whole ensemble.