Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Seashell Pasta with Peas & Pancetta

When it comes to food my tendency is to want everything as
fresh as possible and made from scratch. This gets me into a lot of work! I was drawn to make this dish by convenience (ok, I was feeling really lazy.) Walking through Trader Joe’s I spotted a 10-ounce package of shucked English peas. They were consistently sized and not too big. Inspiration was at hand! 

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This recipe falls into the “so easy it seems to good to be true” category. It takes all of fifteen minutes to make! OK, the peas weren’t organic, but we’re talking convenience and ease of execution here. If you’re a stickler for locally grown peas they will be in season beginning early spring (which it sort of already feels like…) The recipe will feed six to eight as a first course or side dish. It would be great served with a chop, pork or lamb, and breaded chicken…yum!  

2 cups shelled English peas
2 C. uncooked small shell pasta
2 oz. pancetta (about ¼ cup) cut in small squares
2 T. olive oil
¼ C. water
½ C. heavy cream
1 T. unsalted butter
¼ C. white wine
Fresh herbs (if desired, thyme, parsley, chervil, savory, mint)
Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese for grating

To Prepare
Assemble all the ingredients in advance. Prepare the pea
mixture while the pasta is cooking. Drop the pasta in boiling salted water and continue as follows: add the olive oil and pancetta to a large sauté pan. Cook over medium high heat until the pancetta browns nicely (see photo) not as dark as bacon, but taking on good color. Add the peas, a healthy pinch of salt and the water. 

Reduce heat to medium and simmer for two minutes. Add the cream. Simmer and reduce for a few minutes. This is a crucial step. Don’t let the cream reduce too much. Put some in a spoon and taste. It should be ‘soupy’ and not ‘saucy’; it is beginning to have body, but not yet thick. Add half the wine and cook another minute or two. Check for seasoning and set aside until pasta is done. 

Strain the pasta and reserve about a ½ cup of cooking liquid off to the side. Add pasta to the pea mixture and return to medium heat. Stir until the pasta is coated. Add the tablespoon of butter. Add some of the cooking liquid, enough so the pasta is juicy, and coating the pasta. It is ok if it is a bit soupy, as it will continue to get thicken as it cooks and cools on the plate. 

The final step is to correct seasoning and the richness of the sauce. If it is a bit rich and needs a little brightening add a tablespoon or two of white wine or squeeze of lemon. If too thick add a bit more water or cooking liquid. Serve immediately with lots of grated cheese. 

Tips for veggie version: if leaving out the pancetta, add a lot of fresh chopped herbs when adding the pasta to the peas. A little chopped mint and grated lemon rind in the herb mix (about ½ tsp. each) will add a nice touch of pizzazz! Finish with a few twists of the pepper grinder.

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