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.
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.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.