In season: pea tendrils

Farmer Christopher Edwards of Mayflor Farms in Stockbridge loves snow pea tendrils. “They taste exactly like snow peas. I love eating them right off the plant,” he says.

Unfortunately, he’s not growing snow peas this year. So Edwards will be doing what other farmers market shoppers do, looking for a farmer who brought pea tendrils to market. In addition to eating them raw, he cooks them into vegetable bowls and curries.

Fortunately, pea tendrils are appearing at many farmers markets this time of year. Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic has been selling them at the Morningside Farmers Market since late March and he and other growers should have them until the weather turns warm and the peas and tendrils begin to get a little woody.

When he grows snow peas, Edwards tends toward heirloom varieties like the Oregon Sugar Pod. He generally plants his peas in the ground in February and covers them with frost cloth to ward off any freezing temperatures. Within a month, Edwards can begin lightly harvesting the tendrils. Once the plants start flowering and peas are forming, he can be a little more aggressive in his harvesting.

Snow peas are a labor intensive crop for the small farmer. They have to be trellised and each pea picked by hand. Finding the right time to harvest tendrils is a bit of a science. “The tendrils are the support structure for the plant, so you don’t want to remove too many or remove them too soon.”

“I’m not only a farmer, I’m also a cook. Snow pea tendrils are found mostly in Asian cooking, and I saw them listed on an Asian menu which is what gave me the idea to try eating them. I’m really into the idea of using the entire plant such as stems and blossoms,” says Edwards.

Edwards may not have pea tendrils for sale this year, but he’ll have collards, kale, carrots chard, cilantro, lettuce and green onions among other vegetables on his late April table at the Grant Park Farmers Market. Come May 2, Mayflor Farms will also be at the Green Market at Piedmont Park.

Cook Hall’s Pea Tendril, White Asparagus and Goat Cheese Toast

You can certainly use store bought ricotta, but fresh ricotta is so easy to make (and delicious), you just might want to give it a try.

1/2 cup fresh goat cheese

1/2 cup Cook Hall Ricotta (see recipe)

Salt and pepper

24 sugar snap peas, strings removed, lightly blanched, cut in half

24 thin spears asparagus, cut on the bias into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

12 radishes, thinly sliced

3 cups pea tendrils, cut into bite-size pieces

1 lime cut into 12 wedges, divided

6 1/4-inch slices sourdough bread, toasted

Young celery leaves, cracked pepper

In a small bowl, stir together goat cheese and ricotta. Season to taste. Set aside.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat.

In a medium bowl, combine peas, asparagus and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss to coat vegetables then season with salt and pepper. Char vegetables in skillet until just browned, about 4 minutes total. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, toss radishes and pea tendrils with juice of three lime wedges and remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lime if needed.

Divide goat cheese mixture evenly between toasts. Divide peas and asparagus between toasts. Divide radishes and pea tendrils between toasts. Crack pepper over the top, garnish with celery leaves and serve with remaining lime wedges. Serves: 6

Per serving: 451 calories (percent of calories from fat, 35), 20 grams protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams fiber, 17 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 40 milligrams cholesterol, 284 milligrams sodium.

Cook Hall Ricotta

Cook Hall executive chef David Gross uses this ricotta in a number of ways. In addition to serving it with a pea tendril topping, he spreads it on toasted sourdough bread and then tops it with a mixture of honey and lemon zest that’s been boiled to remove the bitterness. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fleur de sel and cracked black pepper, it’s another delicious first course.

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

In a large saucepan, combine cream, milk and salt. Bring to a simmer. Slowly stir in buttermilk. When mixture begins to separate, let it simmer 10 seconds more and then remove from heat.

Line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth, and place colander in a large bowl. Carefully pour hot milk mixture into colander. Allow mixture to drain until ricotta is firm but still moist. Scoop ricotta into a container and refrigerate. Use within 1 week. Makes: 2 cups

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 62 calories (percent of calories from fat, 84), 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, no fiber, 6 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 23 milligrams cholesterol, 54 milligrams sodium.

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