Pasta Sauce with Peas, Ham, and Cream

Sugo di Piselli, Prosciutto Cotto, e Panna

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta, making

    4

    large

Appears in

This ingredients list—ham, cream, butter—is as good as a road map; it tells us we are in Emilia-Romagna, the land of bounteous flavor. We may not be able to or want to eat this way every day, but when we can and we do, it makes us realize how much we miss when we don’t.

As a delicious way to acknowledge and celebrate the coming of spring, you would make this pea and ham sauce when very fresh and very young peas become available in a farmers’ market near you. You certainly ought not to waste time and work by using older, mealier peas. But if you cannot get the right kind of fresh peas, there is no reason to deprive yourself; you can substitute frozen early peas. This is one of the rare occasions for which I would make such a suggestion, and while the frozen are not quite so entrancing as the fresh, they do work here well enough. It is a better alternative than not having the sauce at all.

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh young peas in their pods or 1 cup thawed frozen peas
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • Salt
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ¼ pound boiled, unsmoked ham, cut into strips less than ¼ inch wide
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Method

Suggested Pasta

A pasta with hollows, such as conchiglie—sea shells—or a short tubular shape such as penne or maccheroncini would make the most satisfactory match for this pea and cream sauce. If you want to come as close as possible to the original form of this dish, toss the sauce with garganelli, the handmade macaroni.

  1. If using fresh peas, shell them, soak them in a basin of cold water for a few minutes, then drain.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan, add the peas and ¼ cup water, and turn on the heat to medium high. When the water reaches the boil, adjust heat to cook at a steady but gentle simmer. After 10 minutes, add some salt. Cook until the peas are tender, 15 minutes or much longer, depending on their freshness and youth.
  3. While the peas are cooking, put the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the chopped onion into a 10-inch skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. If you are using frozen peas, start the sauce at this point, putting all 4 tablespoons of butter into the skillet with the onion. Cook the onion, stirring frequently, until it becomes colored a light gold, then add the strips of ham. Cook, stirring, for about a minute. If the peas are not yet done, take the pan off heat.
  4. If using frozen peas, add them to the pan at this point. If using fresh peas, when they are cooked, transfer them to the skillet, and cook for 5 minutes at medium heat, turning them over from time to time to coat them well
  5. Swirl in the cream, taste and correct for salt, add very liberal grindings of black pepper, turn the heat up to high, and cook down the cream, stirring frequently, until it is reduced to a dense consistency.
  6. Cook and drain the pasta and toss it immediately and thoroughly with the sauce, mixing into it the grated Parmesan. If using another tablespoon of butter does not alarm you, swirl it into the pasta. It will greatly enhance the flavor.

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