If your pantry is not entirely devoid of fresh vegetables, a creamy pasta sauce is a good way to stretch a few small florets of blanched broccoli, or even a handful of sautéed mushrooms, into a full meal. But even when I don't have any fresh vegetables in the house, all is not lost. I almost always have peas and prosciutto in my freezer. The combination of pasta, peas, prosciutto and cream is a classic and it takes well to many variations. The basic recipe I follow is a combination of one I taught a few years ago in a Williams-Sonoma class and one I found in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. But in actual fact, the recipe changes every time I make it because the contents of my pantry are never exactly the same.
The sauce starts with some minced shallots, wilted in butter. I tend to keep shallots as a pantry staple, but if you don't have any shallots around, just leave them out and start by stewing the peas and prosciutto in the butter and water. Or, substitute some other member of the onion family for the shallots. I have used thinly sliced leek, and in the early part of the growing season, a few minced spring onions are a special treat.
The more you make this dish, the more you will make it your own—filled with all of the things you love and that you tend to keep in your pantry. It's possible it will become such a favorite that you won't bother to wait until your cupboard is bare before you make it.
Fettuccine with Peas & Prosciutto
3 T. unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, finely diced (or 1 to 2 c. thinly sliced leeks, white and tender green only, or 4 or 5 spring onions, thinly sliced)
2 c. frozen peas, thawed
salt & pepper
1/4 c. water or chicken stock
3/4 to 1 lb. Fettuccine
2/3 to 1 c. Heavy Cream
zest of a lemon
1/2 to 2/3 c. Parmesan
In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots, along with a pinch of salt, and sweat until tender—2 or 3 minutes. (If using leeks, cover and sweat until just tender—5 to 15 minutes depending on the tenderness of the leeks. Cook spring onions as for shallots.)
While the pasta cooks, add the peas, prosciutto and lemon zest to the shallots along with 1/4 c. of water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the peas are tender—4 or 5 minutes.
Add 2/3 c. heavy cream and bring back to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
When the pasta is al dente, drain (reserving some of the pasta water) and add to the sauce. Toss to combine, adding more cream if a creamier sauce is desired and more pasta water if the sauce seems sticky or dry. You may also add a tablespoon or so of butter for a richer sauce. Toss in half of the cheese. Let the pasta sit, covered, for a minute or two to absorb the sauce. Before serving, check the consistency of the sauce again, correcting with pasta water as necessary to obtain a fluid, creamy sauce. Taste and correct the seasoning. Divide among serving plates and top with more Parmesan. Serves 4 to 6.