For all their delicacy and sweetness, peas in the pod are just not the kind of thing you would make a habit of cooking on a weeknight — not with the shelling that needs to happen before they would yield enough for dinner.
Frozen peas are convenient and can be tasty, but you lose the ephemeral satisfaction of cooking something fresh and of the moment.
Sugar snap peas split the difference.
They have the seasonal appeal of fresh peas in the pod but are much faster to handle because you can eat the whole thing, succulent green shell and all. Just pull off the stems and they’re ready to go. Raw or cooked, they add their characteristic sweetness anywhere you use them.
When I get my hands on good sugar snaps, I usually munch on them straight out of the bag, either all by themselves or paired with something to contrast with their crisp texture and sugar content. Runny and salty cheese, bits of fatty salami or prosciutto, or some soft and briny olives do nicely.
Or combine those elements in a salad bowl and toss with a little olive oil, and you have a lively side dish or salad.
But this time of year, when the first sugar snap peas are just turning plump enough to pick, I like to let them star (or in this case, co-star) in a main course. In this recipe, I’ve paired them with crab and tossed it all into pasta.
The thing about combining peas and crab is that it can be hard to determine which element is sweeter. The peas are earthy, grassy and sweet in a vegetal way, like the spring breeze moving through the baby green leaves in the trees. Crab has a whole other kind of sweetness, a salty, beachy, nearly summer sweetness, like the spray blowing off the sea.
Together, these two could make a dish cloying, unless you stop them with a jolt of acid and a smack of heat. Lemon juice and zest and a hit of red chili flakes do the job, aided by a sprinkling of flaky sea salt right at the end.
And then there is the mint, whose herbal coolness goes well with both the sweet and savory elements in the bowl.
Even better, the whole thing comes together quickly — a complex, pretty spring dish that satisfies on a weeknight.
Crab Pasta With Snap Peas and Mint
Yield: 2 to 3 servings
Time: 25 minutes
Fine sea salt, as needed
8 ounces linguine or spaghetti
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste
1 cup sliced sugar snap peas
2 scallions, whites and greens (both light and dark) thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes, more to taste
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
8 ounces crab meat, preferably lump
2/3 cup torn mint leaves
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Flaky sea salt, for serving
1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and boil until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in 1/2 cup pasta water, then stir in snap peas, scallions, chili flakes and a large pinch of salt. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until peas are tender. Stir in lemon zest and mix well.
3. Add drained pasta to the pan along with crab, 1/3 cup mint, the lemon juice and black pepper. Toss, adding more pasta water if the mixture looks dry, until warmed through. Remove from heat and serve topped with remaining mint, a drizzle of oil, more lemon if you’d like, and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.
And to Drink ...
Not only does this dish promise to be seasonal and delicious, but it also opens the door to many resonant wines, all ideally white, dry, perhaps a bit herbal and with no obtrusive oak. Let’s start with Chablis, which would be an excellent foil for the crab and peas. So would Sancerre, which, though made from sauvignon blanc rather than the chardonnay in Chablis, can be surprisingly similar in character. A Soave or Etna Bianco, from Italy, would be terrific. Alsatian Sylvaner, often overlooked, can be a great spring wine. Fino sherry would be lovely, and if you are already drinking nothing but rosé, pick a dry one. — ERIC ASIMOV