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Something about garden peas makes me nostalgic for … I don’t know what. At their best, picked when small and young in the pod, they are what spring has always tasted like. I see gardeners, kneeling in the earth, working hard, being patient. Waiting for the world to wake up.

That’s why, last month, I started Easter dinner off with the puréed French pea soup called potage Saint-Germain. Garden peas flourish in cool moist weather, but in early April they’re still far from a reality in New York. Instead, I relied on Birds Eye’s finest: The flavor and tenderness of the frozen emerald-green BBs are a sure thing compared to supermarket peas in the pod, which are, more often than not, starchy and insipid.

Potage Saint-Germain isn’t all about the peas, though. Lettuce is what gives the soup its more complex, grassy, almost juicy sweetness, and the time-honored combination left me hungry for more.

My thoughts first turned to the classic dish known as petits pois à la française—baby peas gently simmered with lettuce and onion until they cruise past tender to become soft and voluptuous. It is sublime, but what I was after had to be simpler and more immediately gratifying.

When in doubt, I tend to quick-braise vegetables. The technique is nothing new, but it’s the key to many a scratch supper in our household. At the same time, you can easily cook some pasta, cut up a cold roast chicken, broil a piece of fish or some sausages, or fry an egg. So as far as I’m concerned, the recipe below is reason alone to keep a supply of frozen baby peas on hand. It’s also reason to splurge on the first sparkling-fresh garden peas in the pod at your local farmers market. Buy them in the cool of the morning and choose plump, bright-green pods. Pop open a pod—the peas should be small and tender enough to eat out of hand. Refrigerate them as soon as you get home and cook them that evening.

As far as the lettuce goes, I especially like butterhead varieties such as Bibb—when cooked, the leaves have great body—but I’ve also used romaine and green loose-leaved varieties with good results. Whatever you have in the vegetable crisper will be fine.

The beauty of this combination is its simplicity, but I have found myself embellishing it with the sort of oddments we all have knocking around in the fridge. Toss some diced pancetta into the pan along with the onion, for instance, or slice some leftover boiled potatoes and add them after you get the peas and lettuce working. Enliven the braise with a sprig of fresh thyme, mint, or parsley, or, at the end of cooking, swirl in fresh lemon zest or shredded basil. It’s really very hard to go wrong.

Quick-Braised Peas and Lettuce

Serves 4 to 6

Unsalted butter

A handful of thinly sliced spring onion or scallion

4 cups shelled fresh young garden peas (from about 4 pounds in the pod) or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen baby peas, thawed

4 cups roughly chopped lettuce leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Sugar (optional)

1. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened (don’t let it brown), about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water and bring to a boil.

2. Add the peas, stirring to coat them with the liquid. Add the lettuce and stir or toss to combine. Cover the pan and return the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, still covered, about 5 minutes, or until the peas are tender and the lettuce is lush and succulent.

3. Season with salt, pepper, and, if so inclined, a pinch of sugar. Finish with a little more butter if you’re feeling reckless and eat while hot.

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