Last week, Tom and Luke were both on vacation. We spent it at home, playing with friends and occasionally trying (yet again) to teach the puppies to swim. It was the perfect balance of activity and leisure (which doesn’t explain why I only managed one post last week; my apologies).
Now life has returned to normal, such as it is: Tom’s adjusting to a new work schedule; Luke’s shuttling between his kitchen job, soccer coaching, and an occasional chance to referee. Our social life tends to increase in the summer — it’s much easier to meet with friends when you’re not dealing with sub-zero weather and the potential for large quantities of snow — so planning dinner tends to be a nonstarter.
Just because we were able to eat together this week doesn’t mean I actually had time to cook. Put me in a kitchen with a few hours and some fresh ingredients and I’m one blissful gal, but that’s a rare occurrence. Today was a “what’s-in-the-fridge” day, with roughly a half-hour window to cook; in other words, a normal workday. Bonus: the overwhelming heat has left the building (literally — we have no air conditioning), so using the stove is once again a pleasure.
In the fridge: half a ham steak, a handful of snow peas that needed to be eaten soon, the last of some homemade ricotta*, and a drizzle of heavy cream left over from making the ricotta. (It goes without saying that we had a selection of cheeses; this is Wisconsin, after all.) In the freezer: homemade chicken stock and half a bag of frozen tiny peas. I liked playing with the old-fashioned combo of ham and peas by using both the petit peas and the snow peas. The ricotta (and a small amount of cream) added decadent creaminess without an outrageous calorie count.
(*I’ve been attempting to make my own ricotta for a few months now, and have finally, finally succeeded. I’ll post my notes on that soon.)
I’m not big on measuring when I cook, and I never measure when throwing together a quick pasta dish. I’ve given estimated measurements below, but quantities are really up to you. I usually use whole milk instead of heavy cream, but I had extra cream in the house (a rarity). If you use milk, you’ll need two to three times more than the cream. You can leave out the ricotta, or use more and skip the milk/cream. Homemade ricotta melts into the sauce much more smoothly than commercial ricotta does. Use only one type of peas if you wish, but we did like the contrast between the tender baby peas and the crunchy snow peas.
Two-Pea and Ham Pasta
1 1/2 cups fresh snow peas, cut lengthwise into slivers
1 lb. pasta (I used whole wheat rigatoni, but any pasta will do)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresno chile or other chile, minced, optional (feel free to ignore my continuing Fresno obsession)
2 cups chopped cooked ham
2-3 tbs. flour
2 cups good chicken stock (use less if you’re not as sauce-obsessed as we are)
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh or frozen baby peas
½ cup ricotta (preferably homemade), optional
salt and pepper
¼ cup slivered fresh basil leaves
grated parmesan, to pass at the table
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop in the slivered snow peas and blanch for 1 minute; they should still be crisp. Set them aside (no need to shock them in ice water), leaving the water in the pot. Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until pasta is just barely short of done.
Meanwhile, drizzle the oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and Fresno (if using); cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the ham and cook for a minute or two longer, just until the ham is warmed through and starts to have a few small browned patches. Sprinkle with the flour, stir well until all the flour has been absorbed by the fat in the pan, and cook for a minute.
Add the stock and cream and stir well to combine. (If you have time, warm the liquids in the microwave before adding to the pan; it’s not necessary but it does make for a smoother sauce.) Add the frozen peas (no need to thaw first) and cook, stirring, until the peas are hot and the sauce has thickened a bit. Stir in the ricotta and taste the sauce. Add a good amount of black pepper and as much salt as you need.
When the pasta is done, drain it well and stir it into the sauce along with the slivered basil. Cook for another minute to finish cooking the pasta. Serve immediately and pass the parm.