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Cooking Off the Cuff: The Most Flavorful Pasta With Peas

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Quick! While shelling peas are still to be found in the farmers' market, get some and eat them with pasta. Please.

I could leave it at that, and you could just mix boiled peas into a dish of pasta and add butter. But there's a better way that isn't all that complicated.

When Jackie and I, along with a friend, ate this dish last week, I started by cutting not-too-thin slices of Italian speck (dry-cured ham à la prosciutto, but smoked) into squares, yielding maybe a heaping quarter cup's worth (65 ml by volume). I cooked it slowly in butter for a minute or so, seasoned it with black pepper, then added two thirds cup (155 ml) of stock - chicken for its consistency, but vegetable would have been fine - and brought it to the simmer.

At this point, I put the pasta up to boil. I used perline - little pearls - which are about the size of peas; that is visually amusing and, more important, meant we could eat with a spoon (my favorite dinner-table tool). But other short dried pasta would be fine, as would fresh egg fettuccine.

While the pasta was cooking in lots of salted water, I added shelled uncooked peas to the speck-stock mixture. Quantity is up to you: you can hardly have too many. In this case, I used the better part of two cups by volume (say, 450 ml). When the stock returned to the boil, I covered the pan for half a minute to enable the peas to steam, then checked them: they were 80 per cent done but, of course, needed salt. Now I stirred in a third of a cup (80 ml) crème fraîche (heavy cream works well too) and simmered until the peas were as I wanted them: cooked through but still fresh-tasting. When the pasta was done, I added it to the peas, cooked it for a few seconds and, off the heat, stirred in just a little grated parmesan and a scant tablespoon (15 g) butter. If I'd had any fresh tarragon I'd have seriously considered adding some.

The impression is that you're eating just peas and pasta, but the speck, stock and dairy products add subtle layers of flavor that somehow enhance the principal ingredients.

So, hurry up and get some peas before they're out of season and you have to wait until 2017.

The Most Flavorful Pasta With Peas