Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What’s cooking? Three-Pea Pasta with Herbs and Pancetta

There’s a funny smell in my garage. (I know that’s an unusual beginning for a food blog. The mind goes where the mind wants to go...) Probably a critter that got in by mistake and couldn’t find the way out. But ignorance is bliss, and that’s pretty much the approach my prince and I take when it comes to projects we’d just as soon not shoulder. For a couple of weeks now, we go out to the car and he says to me, “Do you still smell it? Because I don’t much.” And I say, “Yes, I definitely smell it. We have to investigate.” And then we get in the car and leave.

I have lots of friends who know how to focus on such issues. When they see a problem, they get right down to it. We are not in that camp, unless the problem is something like changing a light bulb, and even then I can think of at least one bulb that’s been out for a while. If it’s golf- or wine- or music-related, he’ll gladly tackle it. And if it’s food- or cooking-related, I’m on it like white on rice. So it’s not that we’re lazy. At least, I hope it’s not. We just neither of us want to charge into an experience that’s guaranteed to be unpleasant.

To my mate’s credit, if we knew where the critter was – like in the middle of the driveway – he’d find a shovel and some newspaper and get rid of the thing. But the idea of poking around in the recesses of the garage, and hoping that nothing jumps out, ... even just that moment of discovery... Not our thing.

What we need is an assistant. Some go-getter type. Well organized. A person of action. We’ve got both Siri and Alexa, and neither of them can actually do a damn thing. I want to say, “Alexa, change the lightbulb in my bathroom.” “Siri, find the source of that smell in the garage.” But no, they just sit there. We can do that much.

For certain activities, we’ve found that if we hang out with the right friends, we don’t have to be action people. We can take advantage of their organizational skills. For social activities, a couple of our friends often come up with fun dinner-type experiences. For travel, others are amazingly good at planning golf or sightseeing trips. Last fall, when a group of us went to Sicily, the house we stayed in and the sites we visited were all figured out by others on the trip. We believe every group needs a few Type B personalities, and that is our contribution. We pack our bags and go where we’re told. No whining, no complaining, no suggesting.

But so far, none of our friends has stepped forward to find the dead critter in the garage. If you know anyone who’d consider taking that on, please tell them to give me a call. I’ll make dinner.

* * *

Speaking of which, I made the loveliest pasta the other night. The grocery stores are finally offering real spring veggies, like snow peas and sugar snap peas and English peas, though I must confess that I haven’t actually found any English peas. In making this dish, I substituted frozen peas, and thought neither the taste nor the texture suffered.

The other great thing about this recipe is the use of herbs. While I took the sage and parsley and mint from my kitchen garden, they’re all available in great quantity at the stores now. The heady aroma of all those herbs, combined with the nice crunch of the pea pods, made this dish a real celebration of spring. The ricotta salata – ricotta cheese that has been pressed, dried, and salted, and which tastes like a very mild feta cheese – provides a nice, lightly tart accent, but the dish is also terrific without it if you’re not into cheese.

The recipe comes from Melissa Clark of The New York Times, and Ms. Clark developed it to use with farro pasta. But the Kitchen Goddess is not into scouring the planet for such specialized ingredients, so she used whole wheat fusilli and was very satisfied. (I will say that the color of the whole wheat pasta works really well with the peas.) I also added the mushrooms, just because it seemed like a good idea – and it was! I served it to friends – who were effusive with their praise – as one of my “guinea pig” dinners, with French bread and my favorite citrus salad, orange slices with black olive tapenade and fennel seeds. A terrific light meal that takes almost no time to prepare. And you’ll love the leftovers. Spring into it!

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) Pancetta is just Italian bacon, made from pork belly, salt cured and jazzed up with black pepper and other spices. It’s sometimes eaten raw, but not in this dish. It comes in a spiral shape, which makes it a little funky to slice; but it’s really flavorful, so you should try some. Get it at the deli counter.

(2) Almost all the work in this recipe comes from trimming the little ends off the snow peas and the strings and tips off the sugar snap peas, which is a bit tedious but certainly not hard. And because the peas should be eaten firm-tender, the sauce takes almost no time to cook. So if you get your mise en place – peas trimmed, pancetta chopped, scallions sliced, herbs shredded, lemon zested, etc. – you can start the pasta before you even put the olive oil into the skillet. By the time the pasta is al dente, the rest of the dish will be ready to go.

Three-Pea Pasta with Herbs and Pancetta

Adapted from Melissa Clark in The New York Times.

Serves 6.

1 pound whole wheat fusilli or other pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta (or bacon), 2-3 thick slices, cut crosswise into strips about ⅜-inch wide
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature, separated
4 ounces fresh morel mushrooms (or crimini mushrooms), sliced
1½ cups thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts), about 2 trimmed bunches
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2½  tablespoons fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
1½ cups frozen peas (not thawed) or shelled English peas
8 ounces sugar snap peas, strings removed and ends trimmed
6 ounces snow peas, ends trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
zest of 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
2 heaping tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
2 heaping tablespoons roughly chopped mint
2 ounces (about ¼ cup) ricotta salata or mild feta cheese, crumbled

In a large pot of well salted water, cook the pasta until it is just al dente. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water for use with the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet, and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, until it starts crisping and turning brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove it to a plate or bowl, but leave the skillet on medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter, and when it sizzles, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes. Add the scallions, Aleppo pepper, and sage to the skillet and stir well for about a minute, to distribute the oil on the scallions. Stir in the peas (all three kinds), and season well with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the peas (all three kinds) are barely tender.

Stir the drained pasta into the pan, along with about a cup of the reserved pasta water. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Gently toss the pasta and the veggies as they cook, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer the mixture until the pasta has reached a just-done stage and the veggies are still only fork-tender, adding more pasta water as needed. (This is a personal preference thing: If all the liquid has been absorbed and it seems like the pasta is still too al dente for your taste, use that extra cup of pasta water.)

Turn off the heat, and add the butter and the reserved pancetta. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon zest, parsley, and mint until well combined. Toss the mixture gently with the pasta, and season again with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the pasta in large shallow bowls. Sprinkle the ricotta salata on top.



  1. Ah, the joys of reading your blog -- and the joys of being a Type B traveler. Over the years, we've raised that to an art form, being very selective about the Type A's that we travel with. We avoid, like the Gondoliers in Venice, the OCD Type A's. The ones who sit at the dinner table converting euros to dollars and demanding an on-the-spot settlement. But we love three distinct Type A's: The Rustic Planner, the Amateur Historian and the Travel Agent on Vacation. We always have the option of sitting something out, but they always surprise and delight us with side excursions and tours we never would have planned or taken or even discovered on our own. So let's salute those Type A Travelers. The ones who ask only things of us: A check before we leave and a smaller one when we return.

    1. Always lovely to hear from you, Steve. And yes, I truly love and value my type A friends. Isn't diversity wonderful?