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Shellies are perfect to eat now

Call 'em shellpeas, shellies, shuckies or shellouts, they are the first vegetables heralding spring - peas!

Imagine the farmer's elation at the first signs of a new crop pushing up through the still cold spring soil. All seems right with the world when you witness the regreening of the garden, promising that a bountiful harvest will once again spring from the carefully tended rows. We can share the farmer's pleasure in witnessing the earth's rewakening after the dormant winter.

But why the funny names? Peas are grown in a pod to protect them as they grown. You have to shell them, hence the 'shellie' names. Shelling peas is a simple chore, one best done with a few other people, while chatting around the kitchen table. My Grandma Etta would sit with two bowls nearby, one for peas, one for pods; you couldn't help but join in and before you knew it the chore was done, and you had learned a new skill from a master.

To shell peas, just pull down the string from the top of the pod and squeeze the pod at the seams, then scrape out the peas and discard the pods. Freshness is crucial since peas begin converting their sugar into starch as soon as they are picked. The freshest pods are brightly colored and snap crisply when you bend them. Fresh peas cook quickly, too.

One pound unshelled peas yields one cup shelled peas, so if you are feeding a crowd, it could take a bit of time to shell your peas.

You can also eat the tender tendrils, or pea shoots. Cut them from your pea plant or buy them in Asian grocery stores. Pea shoots are often used in stir fry recipes, but also make a delightful visual and flavorful addition to other dishes.

The flower of the pea plant is also edible. Sprinkle the flowers or individual petals on salads and open faced canapes for a special touch of spring.

Another tasty spring shellie (and a relative of the pea) is the fava bean.

Fava beans are readily available fresh April through October, having the height of their season in July. Fava beans, also called butter beans, Windsor beans or horse beans, are large, about ½ to ¾ inch in length. Fresh young favas, like you would find in April, need only to be shelled; more mature beans should also be peeled to rid them of their tough, waxy skins.

I am sharing two spring recipes today, one for a vibrantly bright green Minted Spring Pea Soup and a second recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Fresh Favas and Morels, which combines just about all the rest of the spring favorite vegetables. Both are simple to prepare and capture spring's flavors perfectly.

Bon Appetit - Eat Locally!

Minted Spring Pea Soup

Serves four

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 shallots, sliced

2 smaller Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 cups chicken stock

10 ounces fresh or frozen peas

6 ounces fresh or frozen snow peas, trimmed and cut in half

½ cup fresh mint leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup pea shoots for garnish

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the shallots until soft, about two minutes. Add the potoates and the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until potoates are tender. Add the peas and snow peas and simmer another three minutes until the peas are tender but still bright green. Stir in the mint leaves.

Remove pan from heat and puree the vegetables in small batches in a blender or processor.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of pea shoots.

Note: The soup will not hold its intense bright green color, so serve it immediately upon completion.

Roasted Asparagus with Fresh Favas and Morels

Makes six servings

1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled (about 1 cup)

1 ½ pounds thick asparagus, trimmed

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 slices pancetta or bacon, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

4 ounces fresh morels, sliced*

1 shallot, chopped

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Cook favas in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about two minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water and drain again. Remove and discard outer skin of each fava; transfer favas to a medium bowl.

Place asparagus on large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss to coat. Roast asparagus in oven until tender when pierced with skewer, about 20 minutes.

Saute pancetta or bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until crisp, about five minutes. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and one tablespoon butter and sliced mushrooms, saute for about 4 minutes. Add shallots and Sherry vinegar and simmer two minutes. Add favas and toss to heat through. Stir in thyme. Season fava mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Place asparagus on serving platter. Top with fava mushroom mixture and serve.

* If fresh morels are not available, use ½ ounce dried morels, reconstituted in ½ boiling water. Use same method as described above.