Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: How peas got a bad rap. (Also, a 5-ingredient recipe that's more peas than pasta -- to make up for lost time.)

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Why do children have to eat their peas? As in: eat your peas.

There is, after all, no vegetable that requires less inducement to eat than peas.

I have a clear memory of Isaiah, at almost three, mowing down a row of sweet peas with the methodical rigor of someone who has stumbled upon something good and is determined to extract every last bit of pleasure from it: snap, chew, step. I remember being worried that he would eat all the sweet peas. (I am a horrible, selfish parent.) I remember that he basically did.

This wasn’t because he was an especially good eater, or because he especially liked to eat vegetables out of the garden. It was because he’d discovered we were growing dessert. Sweet peas are the original county-fair, outer-space, dippin-dots ice cream.

So why is eating peas a chore? Because during the age of canned goods, peas became less vegetable and more metaphor. This made sense: they actually were less vegetable. As Alan Davidson writes, dryly, “Most kinds of canned peas bear little resemblance to the fresh vegetable and may be considered a separate food item.”

Peas became a sentence to be served, a character-building exercise. Even before the stern dictates of canned peadom, though, peas were embedded in childhood: pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old. (Pease porridge or pudding was a sludgy mess of dried-pea porridge. Pea is actually a back-formation of pease: pease was erroneously assumed to be plural, so pea became singular. Now you know.) It is worth noting that, in the nursery rhyme, the children are not complaining about the pease porridge. Even when it is nine days old. Those children in 1762 were fierce.

So peas took flight from their actual vegetal selves and nobly filled a hole in the language. The irony is that eating peas is no longer a chore: canned peas have been replaced by frozen peas, and frozen peas are recognizably pea-like. They can be eaten without any character being built.

But they are stuck with their reputation: today’s peas suffer for the sins of processors past.  To wit, from a couple of years ago, Obama on the deficit: “It's not going to get easier. It's going to get harder. So we might as well do it now: pull off the Band-Aid, eat our peas.”

The recipe below is more peas than pasta, by weight and by number. I counted. (I count to fifty every day, just to stay in shape.) It is clever; it is last-minute; it is a shade of green so sharp you could cut yourself on it. You could paint your kitchen cabinets with the leftovers. I have children who could help you.

It’s from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new vegetable cookbook, River Cottage Veg, and it is a play on a Nigella Lawson risotto recipe: basically, you blitz half the peas and use them as sauce. It is a canvas: you could add bacon; you could add ham; you could add toasted almonds or clumps of ricotta. Or none of the above.

Do I recommend using fresh peas? Of course. Did I? Of course not. I used frozen.

Macaroni Peas

Adapted from River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed Press, 2013)

Serves 4

1 pound shelled small peas, fresh or frozen
10 ounces pasta, in a small shape (like macaroni, fusilli, orecchiette)
3 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup parmesan, coarsely grated

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


hardlikearmour June 6, 2013
I needed something quick to make for supper and this was it. Not being one to leave well enough alone I blitzed a half cup of roasted, salted pistachios in the food processor before adding the peas, etc... and added about a half cup of ricotta to the mixture as well. Really yummy! It will be a new pantry/freezer meal in my house.
Barma June 6, 2013
Wow! Pistachios! Who'd a thunk it. I'm going to try this tomorrow! Thanks for this one!
hardlikearmour June 6, 2013
I bought a big bag of them at Costco, so they've been finding their way into a lot of things in my house!
Barma June 6, 2013
Love them and I buy them at Sams Club! I'm thinking about the peas and pistachios and loving the idea! Thanks again.
Meglion May 28, 2013
I add italian tuna to this, and it's incredibly delicious (and forgiving in terms of ingredient amounts) - I saute the minced garlic in olive oil, maybe add a tiny pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, then add the peas (I like laSeur baby peas in a can) and the tuna, and cook just until heated through. The mix goes over any shape of pasta and then grated parmesan is added on top. It's so much more than the sum of its parts.
Rod May 26, 2013
Interesting... that a little different to what I understood ))) I did not think it was pea porridge... i always understood that the serfs made fresh porridge today, and at night they added vegetables to the leftover porridge and then in the morning they added more oats and at night more vege was added etc .... this process went on for 9 days and then on the tenth day they started it all over again... this was because the lords left them with very little food.... so I must look again to find out about pea porridge... i love all these old expressions
heidiho May 26, 2013
Was it necessary to quote Obama on what I thought was a food only website?
lydia.sugarman May 26, 2013
The quote is apropos to the article. You're throne trying toile this political. Crawl back under your rock.
lydia.sugarman May 26, 2013
Auto-correct! You're the one trying to make it political. Now, get back under your rock or your bridge. Whatever!
Svenska_Mar May 27, 2013
WOW! I am a new-bee...Is this a "real" food site"? I am interested in sharing recipe ideas and experiences with said "food" comments. NOT political comments.
Barma June 6, 2013
I say "AMEN" to that!
lilgal May 26, 2013
How many cups of fresh-shelled peas are required?
Barma May 26, 2013
So good! Grew up with pasta and peas. My Dad would add Pancetta. Great pasta dish for Lent.
lydia.sugarman May 26, 2013
Just pondering the plural of the old singular pease. Would it be Pi?
ellen06 May 23, 2013
Just made this last night, and now I'm seeing it this morning! Serendipity! I like to use shallots instead of garlic, I simmer the peas in some chicken stock, and I blend pecorino and parmeggiano to finish it off with some nutmeg. What a quick and easy weeknight dish!