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Five Dishes Featuring Spring Peas

Last week we wrote about the spring produce you should be buying at farmers' markets and grocery stores. The spring season brings lots of bright, fresh fruits and vegetables, but a special veggie seems to stand out as one of the most popular ingredients for in-season recipes: spring peas.

One of my most favorite meals features peas as a simple side with a warm baked sweet potato and chicken coated in Panko crumbs. There's nothing special about it, but the combination of salty peas, buttery sweet potato and moist chicken makes me feel right at home. While it is perfectly acceptable (and scrumptious) to make spring peas as a plain side dish, there are more inventive ways to use the in-season produce. Here are five scrumptious recipes featuring the tender veggies.

Spring Peas Salad

Sometimes you grow tired of plain salads with crunchy Romaine or Bibb lettuce, so create a different type of salad this spring by incorporating soft English peas -- they add varying texture. Boil the shelled peas to soften, then toss with cooked pearl onions or finely diced shallots (they're sweeter than white onions), pine nuts, spinach and mint leaves. This Real Simple recipe uses mint, which brightens up the peas and adds a refreshing scent to the entire salad. For more crunch, try adding radishes, as this Epicurious recipe calls for. Drizzle a lemon juice vinaigrette, or a simple olive oil and honey dressing, for more sweetness. Top with crumbled feta or goat cheese.

Smashed Peas Crostini

Who says bruschetta or crostini should be topped with mozzarella and diced tomatoes only? Drizzle olive oil on top of baguette slices, season with salt and pepper, then bake in an oven until nice and crispy. Soften the spring peas by boiling them in salted water, then once they are cooked and tender, smash them slightly and mix with olive oil, mint and a dash of lemon zest (or just add a splash of lemon juice); you can also toss the peas with grated Parmesan, or simply mix with fresh mint as in this recipe from Real Simple. Place a piece of prosciutto on each baguette slice for saltiness, then top with a scoop of the smashed peas.

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Pea & Ricotta Ravioli

Mix spring peas with ricotta to create a creamy and luscious filling for your ravioli. Go all out and be hardcore by making your own pasta dough by hand, then stamp out your ravioli squares, or take the easier route and use square wonton wrappers as in this recipe from Food Network. Seal those wrappers (or pasta squares) shut and boil for about three minutes, or until the pasta is completely cooked. Serve with a simple drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper. Or make it a heartier dish and serve with a creamy Alfredo sauce.

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Pea & Potato Samosas

Samosas are fried Indian pastries, and vegetarian versions are usually filled with potatoes and peas. Try your hand at making this international dish featuring spring peas from Saveur. As with the ravioli, you can be adventurous and pull out all the stops to make your own pastry dough, or you can use frozen phyllo pastry sheets. Create a filling of potatoes, onions, garlic, spring peas, hot green Indian chiles, and spices like coriander, cumin seeds, mango powder, ginger, garam masala and cayenne pepper. Place a scoop of the filling into the pastry dough and seal shut in the shape of a triangle. Make sure the dough is coated with butter. Then, either bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or fry in a deep-fryer at 350 degrees for about ten minutes.

Pea & Bacon Risotto

You can add just about anything you want to a risotto, so for the spring season toss in fresh peas with bacon for a hearty yet refreshing dish, as in this recipe from Food & Wine. The combination of arborio rice, white wine, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, bacon (everything is better with bacon) and, of course, sweet spring peas is simply irresistible. It's cheesy, filling and a perfect way to celebrate the start to the new season.

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