Fresh petits pois a springtime vegetable

Fresh peas are appearing in the market now, and one of the nicest ways to prepare them is according to a French method that steams them along with shreds of Boston lettuce and tiny white onions. The tenderest, freshest and sweetest peas have bright green pods that are velvety to the touch. The pods should be fairly well filled. Choose, if possible, pods of equal size so the peas will cook evenly.

In France it is traditional to eat petits pois with a spoon. They make a wonderful accompaniment to everything from eggs to roasts. Petits Pois Frais a la Francaise 1 head Boston lettuce 3 cups fresh shelled green peas, about 3 pounds 12 peeled white onions, about 3/4-inch in diameter 6 parsley sprigs, tied together 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1/2 cup water 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon sugar 2 tablespoons soft butter

Remove wilted outer leaves of lettuce and trim stem. Rinse in cold water, spreading leaves apart gently, to remove all traces of sand. Cut into 4 or 6 wedges and bind each with soft string to keep it in shape while cooking.

In heavy 3-quart saucepan, bring peas, lettuce wedges, onions, parsley, 6 tablespoons butter, water, salt and sugar to a boil over moderate heat, toss lightly to mix flavors, then cover pan tightly and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until peas and onions are tender and liquid nearly cooked away.

If liquid hasn't evaporated, cook peas uncovered, shaking pan constantly, for a minute or two until it does. Remove parsley and cut strings off lettuce. Gently stir in 2 tablespoons soft butter, taste and season. Transfer to heated vegetable dish and serve in small bowls. Serves 4 to 6.

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