I thought of this recipe with Peter, the photographer whose pictures grace all these pages (and the pages of the book), in mind. Peter loves peas. Peter loves pasta. Peter loves cheese. And we all should too.
Tunnel pasta with fresh peas and piquant cheese
- large, fun pasta with some kind of tunnel, like rigatoni
- fresh shelling peas
- a knob of butter
- a pinch of flour
- a few tablespoons of milk
- some kind of piquant dairy—labneh, plain greek yogurt, live culture yogurt mixed with cream cheese, creme fraiche, kefir cream, the list goes on
- parmesan or pecorino
- black pepper
- white wine, to taste
- white pepper, to taste
Prep the peas a while before you are going to cook– preferably when you're not that hungry. Sit outside and shell them while listening to the birds and neighborhood animals.
Cook your pasta in a deep, wide pan. Salt the water generously, and with this recipe (and all recipes with large, potentially gummy pastas): add a splash of oil.
For the peas: either cook them in the pasta water before the pasta, removing immediately with a slotted spoon when they rise to the surface (only about 30 seconds), then dropping into a bowl of cold water. Or, another trick I like to do with peas: Place the peas in a pyrex measuring cup. Put the kettle on as if you are going to make tea; maybe do make tea. Pour the boiling water over the peas and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove, refresh with cold water, and let sit until you’re ready for them.
In a small saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat. Add the pinch of flour, stir with a whisk, add the bit of milk, stir vigorously. When the mixture is smooth and uniform, add your piquant dairy in the quantity you desire based on taste.. Maybe you want white pepper or a drop of white wine in there, too. Depending on the dairy, it may need more or less parmesan or pecorino thrown in last minute. Be sure to taste as you go. Cook on low for 5-10 minutes until there are no traces of raw flour in your tastings.
When the sauce is perfect and the peas are done, the pasta should be done too. Those large tunnel pastas do take longer than most, so taste a few pieces before declaring the pot ready. Drain and arrange on your plate. Drizzle the pasta with a little olive oil. Add half the sauce, add half the peas. Toss, making sure many peas get into the tunnels of the pasta. Add the remaining sauce and peas, sprinkle with a tasty herb of your choice (salad burnet, if you can get your hands on it, is particularly good, parsley is classic). Eat, either with gusto or in slow contemplation.