Monday, March 7, 2011

Dinner from the Pantry—Fettuccine with Peas & Prosciutto

I haven't posted a pasta recipe in a while, so I thought I would share one that I make when my cupboard seems bare and I'm too tired or too busy to run to the store (as was the case just the other evening). During the growing season, since I make a trip to the farmers' market every week, my quick "pantry pastas" are filled with the best things the week's market has to offer. But since I'm not nearly as crazy about hanging out at the grocery store as I am at the Farmers' market, there are times during the winter months when my pantry pastas have to rely heavily on staples from my refrigerator (cream, butter, Parmesan) and freezer. Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. I happen to love a butter and cream-rich Alfredo-style sauce. Not having much else around to eat is a great excuse to indulge.

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.

If I have cream, I use it. If I happen to have some leftover mascarpone, I use that instead. If I have no cream at all, I use stock or water and make a brothy-buttery sauce like the one in my Pasta with Fresh Shell Beans and Asparagus.

If you are lucky enough to have some leftover fresh herbs, or even better, some that you grow in a sunny window sill, you might consider including them. Thyme or sage would be good added early on with the peas and prosciutto. Parsley, chives or even some finely slivered Arugula would be a nice finishing touch, added with the cheese.

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
2 to 4 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut in ¼-inch wide strips
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.)

Meanwhile, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks yummy