06/12/2013 08:10 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

Cooking Off the Cuff: The Flavor of Green

Can green be a flavor? Twice this season I've imagined the taste of peas in dishes that instead contained the greens of young spring leeks -- and one of those times it was in something I'd cooked myself, so I should have known better, shouldn't I? Anyway, for the purposes of thinking about dinner, let's say that green is the fresh flavor of spring.

Jackie and I had been away from New York for more than two weeks, and on our return to the Union Square Greenmarket last Saturday we found lots of new produce, including strawberries, more-mature members of the onion-garlic family, and peas. Peas are the crop we most look forward to every year -- more than strawberries and more than asparagus, believe it or not. The other day, our preferred "English" peas were too immature -- shelling them would have yielded frustratingly little to eat -- but the sugar snap peas (which are eaten pod and all) looked nice, and I bought six ounces of them with a view to making some sort of pasta with spring vegetables for our first home-cooked post-vacation dinner.

To that end, I was going to buy some zucchini, but by the time we got to the market in the early afternoon there was almost none left, and to buy what there was we'd have had to retrace our steps, which is against the rules except in the direst emergencies. Then I saw some green tomatoes (greenhouse grown, admittedly) and I recalled their mild tartness and crunch. If cooked with care, the snap peas would also retain some crunch, so the two together would lend a nice texture to a plate of spaghetti -- in addition to their "green" flavor. What could be more springlike?

Back at home, I very finely diced a medium green tomato and combined it with a few leaves of sage, also chopped fine, along with salt and olive oil. This I left at room temperature until dinner time -- it would turn into a sort of simple green-tomato salsa.

When I'd put the pasta water up to boil, I washed and stemmed the snap peas, removing the string from one side along with the stem. I sliced them on the bias into 3/8-inch pieces, letting some of the peas tumble out of the pods in the process. In butter, I sweated a finely minced clove of garlic until soft but not brown, then added the peas and a little fresh thyme and stirred with a rubber spatula, over medium-low heat, until they tasted cooked but had not lost their crispness. To this I added the green tomato mixture, including the liquid it had exuded, and cooked it for half a minute or so. At this point I turned off the heat and let the green mixture wait for the spaghetti to be cooked.

When the pasta was nearly done, I heated the pea mixture and, over medium-high heat, added a tablespoon of butter to form a light liaison with the juices. Into the skillet went the drained spaghetti along with some of its cooking water. I checked for salt and, using tongs, combined the pasta with the vegetables and transferred it to a serving bowl.

This was a great jet-lag dish (though it would have been a lovely light meal in any circumstances): there is nothing challenging about peas and butter, or a hint of gently cooked garlic, or crunchy, slightly tart unripe tomatoes. It tasted like the spring weather outside: It tasted green.

The Flavor Of Green