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All sweet peas are botanically the same. The difference is in the breeding, a matter of shape more than flavor. There are three basic sweet pea types: Sweet, garden, or English; plump sugar snap (sometimes called either sugar or snap); and the flat snow or Chinese. The first type has a tougher pod and is best shelled. The others have crisp pods -- one fat, the other flat -- and are best eaten pod and all, raw or only slightly cooked. Pick the pea for the purpose. Fat pods are perfect for dipping, flat pods are best for salads and stir-fries, and shelled peas do whatever they're told. For all types of peas, look for pods that are small, bright green, and shiny. There should be no brown tips, veining, or yellowing. The peas inside should be well-packed, small, and round. If the peas look squared, are hard, and taste starchy, they're over the hill. Refrigerate peas in their pods, unwashed, in a loosely closed plastic bag for up to two days. If shelling, do so immediately before using. To string pods for eating whole or shelling, hold the stalk end and pull down along the seam, following the interior curve.
Sugar peas, sweet peas, sugar snap peas -- who could resist a secret popping, a quick thumb scrape, a stolen mouthful? Legitimize your desire. Do as they do in Italy: Dump the first of the crop on the table as dessert, with no other sauce but the dew. Take a mouthful, savor the juice -- sweet as nectar, the essence of spring newness.
Three-Minute Lemon-Tarragon Peas Peas are crispest and sweetest when just barely cooked. To serve this recipe as a cold salad, substitute olive oil for the butter. Chill before serving with fresh lemon or lime wedges.
Fettuccine with Fennel, Shrimp, and Peas For extra flavor, add a tablespoon of anisette or Pernod before tossing shrimp mixture with fettuccine.
Ginger-Lime Chicken Salad Cut the chilling time by starting with refrigerated ingredients.
Spring Veggies and Scallops Sauteing the scallops till just cooked through keeps them tender and sweet.
Pappardelle with Chicken and Peas If fresh shelled peas are not available, substitute an equivalent amount of frozen baby peas (petits pois), thawed and rinsed.
Chilled Lemony Pea Soup Enjoy this brisk, sweet soup best as a palate-refreshing chiller on a warm, sunny day. To serve as a piping-hot comforter on a cold day, return blended pea mixture to saucepan. Heat through; stir in lemon juice. Serve immediately.