Pasta Sauce with Peas, Ham, and Cream, in the style of Emilia-Romagna
This Easter I made an All-American holiday brunch for my sister, nephew (the creator of this website), and his lovely new wife Liz. We feasted on ham with an orange-Dijon glaze, scalloped potatoes, fresh fruit drowned in Moscato, and gargantuan homemade cinnamon rolls.
Of course we had lots of leftovers, especially ham. With fresh early peas now finding their way into farmers’ markets, what better way to enjoy leftover ham than Sugo di Piselli, Prosciutto Cotto, e Panna [Pasta Sauce with Peas, Ham, and Cream]?
One glance at the ingredients and you quickly surmise this pasta dish is from Emilia-Romagna. Very rich and bursting with flavor, the sauce traditionally welcomes the spring season. And it’s easy to make!
If you’re not able to find fresh peas, you can always substitute frozen early peas. You can use either fresh or dried pasta — see the suggested shapes below.
2 pounds fresh early peas (in their pods) OR 1 cup frozen early peas (thawed)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus additional 1 tablespoon to mix with the pasta
½ cup onion, chopped
¼ cup ham, chopped into matchsticks ¼ inch wide
½ cup heavy cream
Black pepper, freshly grinded
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Making the Sauce
If you’re using fresh peas, shell from their pods; soak in cold water for five minutes, then drain.
Heat two tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan on medium high heat, add the peas and ¼ cup of water. When it reaches the boiling point, lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
Simmer for 10 minutes then add salt. Continue cooking until the peas are tender. The time needed to reach tenderness can vary wildly, depending on the freshness of the peas, and how young they are.
Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of the butter on medium in a large skillet and sauté the onion until it becomes lightly golden. (If you are using frozen peas, begin the recipe at this point, using four tablespoons of butter to sauté the onion). Add the ham and stir for about a minute.
If using frozen peas, add them to the skillet after the onion is golden and the ham has been added. If using fresh peas, add to the sautéed onion and ham, then cook an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cream and grind fresh black pepper liberally. Turn the heat up to high (don’t worry, if the cream is fresh it will never curdle), stir frequently and let reduce to a fairly dense consistency.
Boil and drain the pasta. Swirl a tablespoon of butter into the pasta, then toss with the sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
The most traditional pasta for this sauce is fresh garganelli, although dried garganelli also works well
Other fresh pasta suitable for this sauce include fettuccine or tagliatelle
Dried pastas for this sauce include conchiglie [shells], penne, or maccheroncini
Baked Spinach Lasagne with Meat Sauce in the style of Bologna
Italy’s most famous baked pasta is lasagne! Historians have traced the dish back to at least Roman times, believing its name derives from the Latin lasania [cooking pot], and possibly to ancient Greece.
Lasagne has been widely adopted throughout Italy, with each region placing its own imprimatur on the dish. In Bologna, lasagne is made with fresh spinach pasta and layered with classic ragù alla Bolognese. In Liguria, lasagne is made with pesto (although sometimes the boiled pasta sheets are simply tossed with pesto [Genoa’s mandilli de sæa al pesto]). Neapolitans layer tomato sauce and mozzarella between the pasta sheets, and Calabrians prefer ricotta salata. In Piedmont, I’ve had lasagne with mushrooms and ham; and lasagne with artichokes is, well, sublime.
This dish takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but in our view it’s worth the effort. You can make the ragù alla Bolognese ahead of time. Also, once fully assembled, you can hold lasagne verdi al forno in the refrigerator for two full days if tightly sealed with plastic wrap. Just allow it to return to room temperature before baking.
Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese [Fresh Egg Pasta Ribbons with Meat Sauce in the style of Bologna] was our most popular pasta dish at Bellavitae. It appeared on the menu when we opened the brick oven every autumn, and lasted into the cold winter months when the oven’s open fire was roaring to keep everything in the restaurant toasty. There is nothing more satisfying in the dead of winter than a comforting bowl of homemade egg pasta with beef ragù.
Ragù alla Bolognese is a centuries-old recipe, where beef is combined with a perfect balance of chopped vegetables and left to sputter for hours over low heat, rendering it succulent and deeply flavored. I know of nothing that so easily warms the soul.
This ragù is very easy to make; the only challenge is that of time. It freezes beautifully or you can hold it in the refrigerator for at least three days. Ours is a most authentic recipe and once you try it you’ll understand why any imitation or variation (some say bastardization) is simply not acceptable – and why the original became so famous.
Mashed potatoes may be the ultimate American comfort food, but Italians enjoy them, too! The dish isn’t as popular as it is on this side of the Atlantic, but the recipe is similar to the American version. We rarely made mashed potatoes at Bellavitae because the freshness and quality is very challenging in a restaurant environment. However, they’re easy to make at home and wonderful to eat!
This simple recipe for purè di patate [purée of potatoes] is from Bologna, hence the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pinch of nutmeg.
Eating your own homemade fresh egg pasta is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable experiences of Italian cuisine. Making your own fresh pasta is surprisingly easy and the result will likely exceed that which most Italian restaurants prepare. Using the right ingredients and adhering to simple techniques will ensure perfect fresh pasta – at a fraction of the cost your supermarket charges.
One of the world’s most prestigious and influential independent wine competitions, the International Wine Challenge (IWC), unveiled the results of the 2010 Trophy and Great Value Wine Awards at the Lords Nursery Pavilion this summer. Over 100 wines were awarded this year, along with 14 Great Value Wines judged for their style, availability and price.
Last month, Italy magazine interviewed Carmelita Caruana, “your authentic Italian cooking lady.” Based in Bologna, Carmelita not only blogs about authentic Italian cooking, but since 1999 has presided over a well-regarded cooking school with classes throughout Italy.
I love Carmelita’s cooking mantras:
Local, seasonal and rooted in history. Eat everything, in moderation. And cook it yourself.
Simplicity: less is more.
Flavour, colour, texture: When you eat an apple, eat an apple. When you drink tea, drink tea. Savour the moment.
I also often say, “First you shop, then you cook, then you play.” The “play” part is about presentation, making the dish look as attractive as possible. I often think about colour when planning a meal. Great colour combinations can really whet the appetite and make the meal that much more enjoyable, because in the end, eating a good dish is sheer pleasure.
Her blog is full of wonderful recipes and beautiful food photography (click on the photos for recipes):
This is a great blog to follow, and if you’re planning to be in Italy, check out her cooking school!