Sweet — and yes — snappy, sugar snap peas don’t need much to enjoy fully.
In fact, just the opposite is true — we often do too much to them or overcook them so their delightful crispness is obliterated. As simple as they are to prepare, they can be tricky to get just right. A few seconds too long in a steamer, saute pan or boiling pot of water, and they turn wrinkly and mushy.
That’s why I practically leaped for joy after making “Sugar Snap Peas with Pine Nuts, Fennel, and Lemon Zest” from “The Side Dish Bible: 1001 Perfect Recipes for Every Vegetable, Rice, Grain, and Bean Dish You Will Ever Need” (2019), of which I received a review copy.
This tome of spectacular side dishes is by America’s Test Kitchen, where proper technique rules.
This easy side dish recipe gets snap peas perfectly. The key is cutting the snap peas in half — something I admit I’d never done before. Usually, I just stir-fry them whole.
But when you cut them in half, according to America’s Test Kitchen, they cook more quickly, so the chances of overcooking are greatly diminished. Not only that, when you cut them in half, you expose them more to the flavoring agents you add.
In this case, it’s a mix of toasted pine nuts, fennel seeds, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and just the right amount of salt. It’s like a riff on gremolata with delicious toasty, crunchy bits that find their way into the exposed pockets of the halved snap peas. The tasty mixture is like the best supporting actor that still lets the sweetness of the sugar snap peas be the big star.
If you don’t have pine nuts, I’d bet that finely chopped almonds would work well, too. In fact, I didn’t have the fresh basil the recipe called for, so I scrounged in my herb garden for some chives and mint instead, which worked wonderfully.
I can’t say enough about this dish, except to add that this recipe is supposed to serve 4, but in my household, the two of us devoured every last bit happily in one sitting.
Sugar Snap Peas with Pine Nuts, Fennel, and Lemon Zest
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
12 ounces sugar snap peas, strings removed, halved crosswise on the bias
2 tablespoons water
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or some chives or mint)
Toast pine nuts in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add fennel seeds and continue to toast, stirring constantly, until pine nuts are lightly browned and fennel is fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer pine nut mixture to cutting board. Sprinkle lemon zest, salt, and pepper flakes over pine nut mixture. Chop mixture until finely minced and well combined. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
Heat oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add snap peas and water, immediately cover, and cook for 2 minutes. Uncover, add garlic, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and snap peas are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil and three-quarters of pine nut mixture. Transfer snap peas to platter and sprinkle with remaining pine nut mixture. Serve.
Adapted from “The Side Dish Bible” by America’s Test Kitchen
More Fabulous Recipes from America’s Test Kitchen: Roasted Mushrooms with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
And: Rice and Peas