Challenging Elements: Peas

Published on: June 15th, 2011

Photo by Jenifer Harington

Pizzeria da Lupo chef Jim Cohen hands me a small cup of bright green, fresh English peas.

“Have one,” he says. I do, and they taste like spring. “I grew up near a grocery and my father’s parents had a vegetable stand. I used to get a lot of fresh peas,” he says of the ingredient he was given for the challenge. “But I’ve learned how easily they can turn starchy and getting a fresh pea flavor can be really difficult.”

H e was inspired by the classic Italian dish of pasta, prosciutto, peas and cream for the dish, but because of the unsettling starchiness of peas, he called Red Wagon Farm to see if they had pea shoots in stock.

“They have that great flavor but without the texture,” he says. “They were picked fresh this morning”

Cohen tops his dough with a dusting of pecorino, drops of sheep’s milk ricotta from the Fruition Farm near Denver, olive oil and a pinch of dried chili flakes. The chef says “a little cheese goes a long way.”

“Pizza is about the dough,” he says. “Everything you put on the dough is an accompaniment.”

He tosses the pizza in the wood-fired oven, which serves as a mantel for the casual space. We wait just minutes, and Cohen pulls the pizza out just as the cheese has melted and the crust has developed brown edges. He lays thinly sliced prosciutto over it and covers the whole thing with pea shoots. The final touch: dollops of crème fraiche. The pizza is served with sides of Italian oregano, Parmigiano Reggiano, chili flakes and sea salt, none of which you’ll need.

The flavors are classic and clean with wonderful balance—the creaminess of the cheese and crème fraiche, saltiness of the prosciutto and pecorino, and the freshness of the those vibrant pea shoots, which Cohen says are like “a reduction of pea flavor.” Atop the dough, which is slightly toothsome and full of crispness and comfort, the flavors meld so nicely. It’s a very satisfying dish.

The next day, I tell a co-worker about the challenge, how Cohen opted for pea shoots. “So,” she said, “he cheated?” Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it like that. The challenge is about inventiveness, know-how and guts. I respect the fact that Cohen didn’t toss a handful of peas on the pizza and call it good. He found a way to match peas with pizza, and his motives were purely flavor-focused.

Plus, if this is cheating, serve me up another slice.

Pizzeria da Lupo will have the pea shoot pizza on special through June. Try it at 2525 Arapahoe Ave., in Boulder, or visit pizzeriadalupo.com.

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