Yesterday, you saw us make up a batch of orecchiette pasta, with the idea that sometimes you want pasta that’s not ribbon-shaped. Well, it just so happens that, the same day, we planned to make this dish that needs orecchiette pasta. Or, at least some pasta that has a three-dimensional shape, and is not a ribbon. The idea of the differently-shaped pasta is to match the shape to the sauce. If you have a slick, creamy, sauce, you want pasta that has a shape with a lot of ridges, nooks, and crannies to hold that sauce in place. That way, you get a bite of sauce with each bite of pasta.
The sauce in this dish is slightly thick, but it’s still creamy, so using a pasta shaped like linguine would leave your bowl with a puddle of sauce at the end. Not ideal, although we really like sopping up sauce with a dinner roll. In fact, we’re starting to get hungry again, just thinking about it.
Before we head off to make another batch, we’ll let you know that our version is based on a recipe in Pasta, by Gianni Scapin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli.
To us, this seems like a spring dish, with the spring onions and peas. We think that it would be even better if you were able to use fresh spring peas, but frozen will do. For the ricotta, we had some sitting in the fridge that we had to use (partly why we picked this dish), but, if you’re up for it, you can make your own ricotta; it’s not difficult, and we’d really consider it for the next time. Of course, Parmesan does not come in a green cylinder; instead, it’s cut from a huge wheel of cheese. You know that because you buy it and grate it yourself, right? Thought so. For the lemon zest, consider buying an organic lemon; otherwise, you have no idea where that zest has been. Failing that, wash your lemon very well.
Procedure in detail:
Prep. Just a few things to prepare beforehand, but you do need to do them, as this dish goes together quickly, and you’d hate to be zesting a lemon while your pasta overcooks into mush. So zest the quarter lemon, get out the broth and peas, and slice that onion. There. Dinner’s halfway to the table. This is also the time we place the serving bowls in the oven on warm.
Fry onion. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the sliced onion and let cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the green parts of the onion don’t burn.
Add peas and broth. Once the onion is tender, add the frozen peas (or fresh, if you’re fortunate enough to have them) and the broth. Stir everything around and let the broth come to a simmer; then reduce heat, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile….
Boil pasta. We know the peas are only cooking for about 5 minutes — no pea mush for us — so we had our pasta water going. With fresh pasta, it will take only a few minutes in the boiling water until the pasta is perfectly done. If you’re using store-bought pasta, your cooking times will be different, so adjust accordingly. Once the pasta is done, drain thoroughly.
Add pasta. Stir the drained pasta right into the simmering peas, until the broth coats the pasta and the pasta heats (if your pasta cooled while draining), about a minute.
Add ricotta. Stir in the ricotta until you have something that resembles a sauce. It might look a bit grainy, but that’s because ricotta doesn’t really melt. Don’t worry, ricotta doesn’t seem at all gritty when you eat it (one of us absolutely can’t stand gritty food, so we wouldn’t even consider ricotta if it were).
Taste and season. By now, the ricotta is hot, so give your dish a taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve. Serve in the warmed bowls and top with a sprinkle of the lemon zest, and some grated Parmesan cheese. Finish with a bit of dried basil and dried chervil. Oh, all right, add a crusty dinner roll, too.
This dish really is about freshness, and, while it was very good (four stars), it would have been even better with fresher peas and freshly-made ricotta. Yeah, we know that freshly-made ricotta seems like a lot of trouble, but we really think it would make the sauce even better. But, don’t let that stop you from making this dish just as we did; it’s fast and easy, and really takes no longer than it would take to boil up store-bought pasta. Plus, it’s different from the same old pasta and tomato sauce. The lemon zest really works to bring out some of the flavors, and it does it without adding a lot of acid, as lemon juice would do. Overall, we’ll say four stars, but this dish would be an even better treat if you went all the way and used the freshest possible ingredients.