Pasta e piselli – pasta with peas

Pasta e piselli
Make peas not war

I have been meaning to share the wonderful recipe of pasta e piselli for a while but never quite got there. As they say: there is always a time and a place and today it’s the perfect time to introduce you to a super-simple yet scrumptious pasta dish!

Pasta e piselli belongs to the category I previously defined as “le mitiche” (the legends), just like pasta e patate:  dishes made with the combination of pasta and some kind of legumes or vegetables – remember pasta e fagioli? Well, pasta e piselli is as comforting as the other two but possibly quicker and easier to make.

It is incredible how our tastes change over time. Pasta e pisellipasta e fagioli and pasta e cavolo are all dishes that take me back to when I was a little girl and my mother stubbornly – like every mother – tried to feed me vegetables and legumes in any possible shape and form, as they are good for you and all that… 🙂

At the time I thought of it as some kind of duty – a bitter pill I had to swallow. But now I crave each and every one of these pasta-based dishes. They are comforting, so very tasty and really cheap, too. It might not surprise you to learn that they come from the popular tradition of recipes made with poor but nutritional, healthy ingredients.

The one thing these pasta dishes have in common is the fact that the pasta gets cooked together with the vegetables or legumes, as though it were a soup. The starch released by the pasta contributes to the creaminess of the dish.

I feel pretty smug when I feed George pasta e piselli or pasta e patate and see a wide, happy smile spread across his face. And I can assure you that every time, no matter how much I make, he will ask with a cheeky smile: “Is there any more?” And, relying on the excuse of the legumes and vegetables being good for you, we usually have seconds. That said, on the rare occasions our greedy tummies manage to resist, we’re always happy to have some left for the next day, when pasta e piselli will taste even better!

Pasta e piselli
Beautiful seen from the top, too

I guess that some people adore peas while others just cannot stand them. Pasta e piselli is a fantabulous comforting pasta dish perfect if you are one of those people who starts dancing up and down and jumping to the ceiling at the sound of the word pea.

George is a pea lover, so when we were both really poorly and unable to go out to do any shopping these past few days, I made pasta e piselli a couple of times. It’s one of those dishes that warm you up but also give you that much needed comfort when you are feeling under the weather. Not only that – it’s also the perfect dish to make when you pretty much have nothing left in the cupboard or the fridge.

George eats pasta e piselli
Flu vs pasta e piselli: 0-1

I always keep a bag of peas in the freezer – and needless to say the place in our cupboards for spaghetti and mixed pasta is never empty. Apart from the base of soffritto – which you make with oil and onions – and the Parmesan you sprinkle on top at the end, you don’t need anything else to serve this yummy pasta dish.

Pasta e piselli, like pasta e fagioli, is very symbolic of Neapolitan tastes: we love simple, fresh, nutritious and tasty food. It really does not take much to be happy, and Neapolitans know a lot about that when it comes to what to put on the table.

Ingredients for pasta e piselli

Serves 4-6

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Half an onion, chopped finely
  • Parmesan crust (the tough rind left at the end of a block)
  • 100g pancetta (optional)
  • 600g frozen peas
  • 100ml white wine
  • Salt
  • 350g spaghetti, chopped roughly, or tubettoni
  • 800ml-1l of boiling water

Extra

  • Parmesan to sprinkle

Method

Scrape off the outermost surface of the Parmesan crust and soak in lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. When ready, dry and chop into several smaller pieces. Set aside.

Meanwhile, chop the onion really finely. Use a mixer if necessary.

In a deep, wide saucepan add the oil and chopped onions. Add a pinch of salt. Cook slowly on low-medium heat until they soften.

If you are adding pancetta, add it now and stir well. Cook for a few seconds.

Add the Parmesan crusts, stir and cook for a few seconds (these will add plenty of flavour – and you can eat them, too).

Add the peas and stir well. Add a pinch of salt. Stir. Add the wine and increase the heat. Stir again and let it evaporate. Add enough boiling water to cover the peas by 1cm. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook gently for 5 minutes, or until the peas are cooked but not falling apart.

Optionally (if you prefer a creamier consistency for the dish), take out 4 tablespoons of peas or more (this will determine the level of creaminess) transfer them to a food blender with a little boiling water and mash them to a creamy consistency. Set aside.

Cooking the pasta with peas

Add enough boiling water to cover the peas abundantly. You need to have enough water for the pasta to cook comfortably. At the same time you don’t want too much, as this is not a soup and by the end of the cooking time you don’t want a soupy consistency.

At this point you need to add more salt. Add a little; then during the cooking you can taste the pasta and decide whether it needs more.

Pasta poured in the pan with peas for pasta e piselli
Together, because we love each other…

Bring to the the boil on high heat and add the pasta. Stir well. Cook for the time suggested on the pasta packet (usually 10 minutes for spaghetti).

Stir occasionally to make sure the peas and pasta are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. As I said, you need a fine balance here: not too much water – but enough!

A minute before the pasta is ready, if you prepared the cream of peas add it and mix well.

Sprinkle some more Parmesan and stir well. Remove from the hob and let rest for a few minutes. Then serve in plates and sprinkle some more Parmesan. Because, you know, you can’t have too much of a good thing!

Pasta e piselli is certainly a very simple dish, but it’s one that will be good for your tastebuds and your mood :-). Ah – comfort food. How could we cope without it?

If you have any left over, store in a glass tub in the fridge and reheat in the microwave the next day. It will be stickier and tastier. That’s definitely when I like it most!

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