11/03/2011 12:29 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012


Peas are in season, and I'm not certain it matters. Even before I became a defender -- not quite an advocate, but a defender -- of frozen vegetables, I always kept a bag or two of frozen peas in the freezer. And I can tell you that I started doing so more than 20 years ago, when my children were young and a babysitter named Gina taught me how to make what became known in my family as "Gina noodles."

Not that there was much to teach: Gina noodles are pasta, Parmesan, and peas -- maybe a bit of cream. They are in the family of fettuccine Alfredo, pasta primavera, or whatever name you give a simple white-sauce pasta, but one with loads of peas. For variety, we'd add ham or, even better, prosciutto. For more variety, we'd add a fried egg, or a beaten-up raw one, and then the dish would cross over into Carbonara territory.

One thing that was almost never considered was a fresh pea. Because unless you live near an upscale market or a very old-fashioned farmers market, peas come in pods. (At those singular markets, you may find them shelled; and if you find them shelled at a non-exorbitant price, grab 'em.) And removing peas from pods, though not quite as exasperating as peeling fava beans -- a truly despicable task -- is, I'm tempted to say, more trouble than it's worth.

It's certainly more trouble than it's worth if you haven't grown the peas yourself. If you have, you've already shown admirable dedication and a willingness to put forth the effort required to eat first-rate food. The rest of us, by buying peas raised elsewhere, have more-or-less given up, because the fresh pea is a fragile item, and by the time it's shipped to market it's not really fresh. At least not fresh enough to warrant all that work.

The frozen pea, however, is pretty good. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than that, either, which I think makes it better than pretty good. It's bright green, it can be quite sweet, it's inexpensive, it cooks in a second, and it's always there, at least if you remember to buy it.

My kids used to eat them frozen, which is not the highest and best use. One can pop them in boiling water and douse them in butter, but they're not so good that this minimal treatment is going to float your boat. But aside from Gina noodles there are a few other places in which frozen peas are good, like just about any soup or stew that contains vegetables (you might see last week's Chicken in a Pot, for example), or as a spicy purée that can be served as a side dish or used, as it is in the recipe here, as the basis for fish or chicken.

There are two other alternatives to the fresh pea: The snow-pea, long a staple of stir-fries, is now available pretty much everywhere. And the sugar snap pea, which a relatively recent hybrid of the snow pea and the classic pea. Both of these require a little preparation, though -- they're best if you remove the tough little "string" along their bottom edge. Which makes them a bit too much work.

"Gina" Noodles
Pan-Roasted Swordfish with Gingered Pea Purée