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new potatoes and peas

New Potatoes & Peas from a Home Kitchen Garden

A bowl of hot New Potatoes and Peas goes well with just about any meal. As an omnivore, I especially like this dish with steak or pork—seasoned with onion powder, salt, and pepper and then grilled. New Potatoes and Peas can even satisfy as a main course.

Few meals I cook from my home kitchen garden excite me as much as New Potatoes and Peas. This is not a difficult dish to prepare, and it’s not a particularly brilliant assortment of culinary preparations. Rather, it’s a simple, traditional, hearty, and historical dish that I imagine gardeners have prepared for centuries.

My dad grew up eating New Potatoes and Peas, so my mom had to learn how to make them. Of course, I needed to learn how when I moved out on my own. I’m inviting you to participate in the tradition in hopes you’ll enjoy this fine dish as much as I do, and that it will provide you with further motivation to get gardening in the spring.

Red Potatoes & Peas from a Home Kitchen Garden

Use about a quart of new, red-skinned potatoes if they’re small, or, perhaps, five full-grown newly-harvested potatoes. Also, use about two cups of freshly-hulled peas. You’re not going to peel the potatoes, so scrub them thoroughly (I use a stiff-bristled plastic vegetable brush). Nothing spoils a serving of New Potatoes and Peas more than biting into a trace of residual garden soil.

Are There Peas in your Home Kitchen Garden?

I don’t grow a home kitchen garden for survival, though I love how homegrown produce decreases my grocery expenses. Mostly, I grow vegetables and fruits because they’re so incredibly better than their store-bought equivalents. Peas are among the most impressively better vegetables. In my hardiness zone 5b/6a neighborhood, these sweet, delicious garden pearls come ready in mid-to-late spring and last until early summer.

Sadly, my pea plants have given up, despite continued cool nights. That’s OK, because I need the space for winter squash and herbs, but I always lament the passing of the pea plants. For those who can still get garden fresh peas, please make up a batch of New Potatoes and Peas and tell me what you think.

If you’re using large potatoes, cut them into bite-sized pieces. I cut mine even smaller than traditional whole new potatoes which run an inch or two in diameter. Whether you cut them up or use whole potatoes, you must cook them before preparing the rest of the dish. Put them in a pot that is only half full with the potatoes in it; you’ll eventually finish the dish in this pot. Cover the potatoes with water and then, for the most authentic results, boil the potatoes until they soften but are not mushy. After the water starts to boil, I poke a cooking potato with a fork every three minutes or so. If the fork punctures the surface easily but the inner flesh is still firm, the potatoes are done. To be certain, lift one from the pot, cool it down quickly in water, and eat it. If it’s too crispy for your taste, let them cook a bit longer. To hold the potatoes until the rest of the dish is ready, pour off the hot water and leave the potatoes in the pot, uncovered.

The peas shouldn’t need much cooking. My mom usually didn’t cook them at all before adding them to the cream sauce (in a later step). I usually pour boiling water from the potatoes into a much smaller pot holding the peas and then boil the peas for three to five minutes. Don’t cook them really long or you’ll boil the flavor and character out of them. To hold the peas after cooking, pour off the hot water and fill the pot with cold water. Set the peas aside.

What Are New Potatoes?

Potato plants aren’t lovers of frost, but you can plant potatoes a few weeks before the last frost date in your area. If you do that, and you plant peas about the same time, the potato plants are likely to have made little potatoes by the time you’re harvesting peas.

These small potatoes would become full-grown potatoes if given the chance. However, when you harvest “new potatoes,” you sacrifice the plant (though I’ve heard that if you plant in a potato tower or box, you can harvest young potatoes from below and leave the plant to continue producing through the summer).

You don’t need to grow your own to get good new potatoes. However, shop at a farmers’ market or a growers’ market if you want the best. For New Potatoes and Peas, look for red-skinned potatoes that are one- to two-inches in diameter. It’s OK to get larger potatoes; I do it all the time and have never been disappointed. Often it’s hard to find small potatoes, but if you find this year’s red-skinned potatoes of any size, they’ll make the dish authentic.

Melt four or five tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan while slicing up a medium-sized onion (or half of a large Spanish onion). I like big chunks, but feel free to dice your onion. Sauté the onion over medium-high heat until the chunks become translucent. You’re going to make roux (flour and butter mixed), so add one tablespoon of flour for each tablespoon of butter you melted in the first place.

Toss the onions in the flour and stir it around until the flour soaks up all the butter in the pan. If the flour and butter mixture is runny, add more flour until the roux is just shy of clumping… but don’t panic if it clumps; you’re fine as long as you can mix in all the flour that you’ve added.

Finally, add milk (traditionally, you use cream… and by all means go ahead if you don’t mind the fat), stirring constantly until the milk gets very hot and the mixture thickens. How much milk to add? Roughly, add three-to-four cups of milk. Start with less, heat till it’s thick, and add more milk if the mixture is too thick. The sauce should stick to the onion chunks and “give” like thin pudding; it shouldn’t run off the spoon when you scoop it out of the pan and pour it back in, but it shouldn’t be so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

Recipe? Sorry… No Recipe

I’m afraid I don’t have a recipe for New Potatoes and Peas. I make up each pot depending on how many diners I expect, how many peas I have, and how many potatoes. The illustrations show the steps with enough explanation that you should be able to improvise adequately. I followed my mom’s recipe once, and the results were nothing like what mom used to make. Follow the instructions in the figure captions, and you’ll know how to succeed every time.

Take the onion sauce off the heat and pour all the water off the potatoes. Put the pot of potatoes on the hot burner and immediately pour in the onions and cream sauce. Quickly strain the peas and add them to the pot. Stir it all together as it heats, and add salt and pepper to taste.

 

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