It’s the season of peas. How delicious and sweet they are – served in the pods as a nibble during the aperitif, or boiled or steamed. I grew up with my fair share of them – Mum always hid them in the mashed potato – and I loved them like that even if ‘green’ was a no-go zone at the time. But I must say that the peas we ate were more of the frozen in a bag variety (feeding a family takes a lot of shelling I now realise). Now it’s a delight to find so many fresh peas around at the markets and Lilas and I’ve had a great time sitting amongst the rows of vineyards (Benjamin uses them as a ‘green fertiliser’) picking and eating them.
A couple of years ago, my parents-in-law brought Mamy Jeanne with them to stay at our place (Mamy Jeanne is Benjamin’s maternal grandmother and ever since my arrival in France has been a huge support – even when my French was non-existant and communication was conveyed by gestures). Not one to sit around and enjoy being waited on , Mamy wanted to help contribute to the numerous family reunions we were having that week and prepare a few of her favourite Spring dishes from over the years. And we’re talking a few Springtimes here – Mamy is 90 and also been known to wield a ping-pong bat in games against the great-grandchildren.
So I took Mamy to the local market and she was very keen to buy up on the peas. She wanted to show me how to make a Jardiniere de Legumes (as one of my husband’s favourite dishes, it was almost a family duty to add this to the repertoire) and I was very eager to hover over the stove as she did it.
When the peas are abundant in Spring and you have the arrival of the other ‘legumes nouveaux’ (new vegetables), this dish is served on many French tables. It’s extremely easy, colourful and healthy. We had some Australian friends to stay recently and with a couple of vegetarians amongst them, it was a perfect meal.
Mamy Jeanne’s Jardiniere de Legumes
(please note that quantities are approximate – I vary them, depending on how it looks in the pot)
10 or so lettuce leaves (any type of green salad leaf)
4 onions – or about 8-10 new baby onions
367 432 peas (that’s what it seems like – but make it about 800g, unshelled)
butter, olive oil
salted pork (this is optional – depending on how you feel and if there any any vegos)
First I like to fry the onion in a good chunk of butter and olive oil until almost golden as I enjoy the sweetness (and easier for hubby to digest).
(I read a recipe where a women likes to caramelize a bit of sugar in her pot first, but I really don’t think you need to when the new vegetables are so sweet and fresh)
Once onion is done, add the salad leaves and stir well until leaves are floppy. If using pork, add now too.
Then add the carrots, potatoes, turnips, all cut into random, small chunks (some like to perfectly dice each vegetable but I think this looks too neat!), and herbs.
Add water to the pot, until vegetables are just covered, close lid and simmer after boiling for about one hour – or until vegetables are to your liking (the French have a reputation for very well-cooked vegetables, something unheard of in the Asian-focused cuisine so popular in Australia!)
Remember to add the shelled peas about half-an hour into the cooking time. I don’t like to add them from the beginning as they can get mushy.
Serve on its own or as an accompaniment to veal, pork or chicken, with a big pot of French mustard on the side.