My husband hates peas.
I see them pushed to the side of his plate, picked out from whatever dish I put them in. For that, I blame his Irish mother, who had to be the worst cook on the planet (God rest her sainted soul). She served watery peas in their canning liquid right out of a saucepan on the stove (ugh).
I love peas and am always looking for ways to sneak them into dishes such as pasta with tomato and bacon, macaroni and cheese, pasta salads or my go-to Thursday night dinner—cannelloni beans and tuna.
Italians love peas, too, and I’ve learned that there is actually a “pea festival” in northeastern Italy. It takes place in Vincenza, a city close to Venice, a region referred to by Italians as “The Veneto.” Every spring, visitors to the festival can indulge in the many traditional dishes that contain peas such as risi e bisi (rice and peas), lasagna with peas or just a bowl of simply but perfectly cooked peas, perhaps laced with a little pancetta, mint or spring onions. The peas grown there are said to be the best in Italy.
I always look for fresh green peas that appear in farmers markets each spring. But, if they are not bright green and small in size, I pass them up for the frozen variety. Tiny frozen peas work beautifully and don’t even require defrosting for many recipes.
I love so many of the classic Italian dishes made with peas, but my favorite is tagliatelle with peas, ham and cream. Tagliatelle is pasta that is cut into long, flat ribbons, similar to fettuccine. This is one pasta dish that works best with fresh egg pasta rather than dried, but both will work. You can use fresh or frozen peas, and prosciutto could fill in for regular cubed ham. It’s a fairly rich dish, so a nice accompaniment would be a crisp green salad, simply dressed.
Tagliatelle with Peas, Ham and Cream
- 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 ¼ cups peas
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 cups cubed, fully cooked ham
- 12 ounces fresh or dried tagliatelle
- 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- A dash of nutmeg (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan until melted and then add the sliced onion.
- Cook the onion over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened.
- Add the peas and cook until tender. (If using baby frozen peas, this will take no more than 1 or 2 minutes. If using fresh peas, the time will depend on the size. Taste one!)
- When the peas are tender, stir in the heavy cream.
- Cook for 5 minutes and then add the cubed ham.
- Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. If using fresh pasta, this will only take a few minutes. If using dried, cook according to package directions. Save a cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary.
- Drain the pasta and toss with the hot sauce in a warmed pasta-serving bowl. Add a little pasta water to thin the pasta and sauce if desired.
This is a classic Italian pasta dish, but you can still find quite a few variations on how to make it. As noted above, some cooks substitute prosciutto for the ham and others a less-known Italian cured meat called speck. You can add minced garlic to the onions or substitute sliced shallots. Instead of using reserved pasta cooking water to thin the dish, you might try a little white wine. And in some versions, I’ve seen the addition of chopped fresh basil.
This recipe might be a good way to use up your leftover Easter ham. I know I can get my hubby to eat tagliatelle with peas, ham and cream. But there will be a little stack of peas left in the corner of his plate. And I still need someone with whom to share my homemade pea soup.