Last Updated on May 12, 2021
My grandpa John was a quiet, old-fashioned man from Maine who did all the cooking for his children and later for his grandkids. He scoffed at chicken and didn’t have much use for pork, but he never met a cut of beef he didn’t love. After long winters filled with pot roasts though, even he responded to the change of seasons by mixing it up a bit.
In the first true days of spring, when the days were finally sunny but the nights were still cool enough to crave a warming dinner, he would boil the season’s first baby potatoes with tender garden peas, toss them with a slip of cream and butter and fold in crispy, salty bacon. It was the meal we looked forward to every year, a dish so simple and good that no one looked at you askance if you tipped the bowl up to your mouth to catch the last drop of creamy, peppery liquid left behind.
A note about ingredients: Baby “steamer” potatoes weren’t really found in supermarkets in my grandpa’s time, but make a fine substitute if you can’t find local new potatoes. I prefer the baby Yukon Golds or the baby red-skinned potatoes for this dish. Please don’t even entertain the idea of peeling the potatoes. The skin is tender, vitamin-packed, and provides a nice textural contrast to the creamy insides, not to mention the idea of peeling dozens of small potatoes sounds like a real drag.
As for the peas, I will just quote my mother here: “New peas are preferred, but frozen, baby ones (if possible) are certainly acceptable.” So there you have it, straight from Johnny’s daughter.
- 1 pound new potatoes unpeeled
- 4 ounces thick-cut bacon (or any bacon) sliced into ½” lardons
- ½ teaspoon olive oil
- 1 pound shelled peas fresh or frozen
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup half and half
- kosher salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (be generous)
- 8-10 large mint leaves roughly chopped, for garnish
- Fill a medium stockpot with water and salt heavily—it should taste like a mouthful of ocean water. Bring to a boil and add potatoes. Boil potatoes until just tender, about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes.
- While potatoes are boiling, place sliced bacon and olive oil in a large skillet. Place skillet over a medium-high burner and as soon as you begin to hear the bacon sizzling, reduce heat to medium-low. Cook bacon, stirring and flipping pieces occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon pieces are browned and crispy. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to cool and crisp further.
- Carefully pour bacon fat out of skillet into a heat-proof container. (I like to save it in my fridge for frying breakfast eggs!) Reserve skillet.
- When potatoes are almost done, add peas to the boiling water. If you are using frozen peas, once the water comes back up to a boil, immediately drain peas and potatoes. If you are using fresh peas, allow them to boil for 1-2 minutes before draining, or until bright green.
- When potatoes are tender and peas are cooked, drain mixture thoroughly and set aside. In reserved skillet, warm half and half and butter over medium heat until the butter is just melted. Add potato/pea mixture and cooked bacon and toss to coat. Season liberally with salt and lots of freshly cracked pepper.
- To serve, use a slotted spoon to scoop peas, potatoes and bacon pieces into shallow bowls. Top with 2-3 tablespoons of liquid and garnish with mint leaves.
Sara May is a cook, baker, recipe developer and veteran of the Philadelphia restaurant scene, where she worked both in kitchens and in front of house positions. A recent transplant to the Finger Lakes region of New York state, she is enjoying all of the good wine and bird feeder drama that her new home has to offer.