Quick, creamy and alliterative: Pasta with peas, prosciutto and Parmesan

by Terry B on May 13, 2009

Fresh peas, barely sautéed, lend a taste of spring to Fettuccine with Peas and Prosciutto. Recipe below.


The hardest part of cooking with fresh English peas, at least for us, is getting the peas home from the produce market. Typically, I will be driving, and Marion will be shelling peas, alternately feeding me handfuls and devouring them herself. By the time we arrive home, we’re left with nothing but a bagful of empty pea pods. But I was determined to make this pasta dish, so the peas rode safely home in the trunk this time.

go-to-the-recipeInterestingly, though, the ritual above is what awoke me to the wonder that is fresh peas. I grew up eating [or more accurately, avoiding] canned peas. And even when I “graduated” to frozen, I remained unimpressed. They still had that same one-dimensional, disconcertingly sweet flavor and a wrinkly, mushy, nothing texture.

Fresh peas, on the other hand, are a whole other animal, er, vegetable. Eaten raw straight from the pod, they have a nice, crisp snap to them and a sweetness that is much more subtle. They are vibrant and lively and conjure up visions of springtime, not cafeteria ladies. In making this pasta dish, I was determined to cook them as little as possible—to just warm them, really—to retain that wonderful freshness.

english_peas_bon_appetitA quick peas primer. There are three basic kinds of green peas. English peas, also known as garden peas and fresh peas, come in plump pods and must be shelled. It’s quite easy—just squeeze the pods along the seams and they readily split open. It’s nothing like the involved, two-step process of shelling fava beans. Sugar snap peas and snow peas have edible pods. All three are legumes, actually related to peanuts.

And all three are quite good for you. According the the Whole Foods website, “Green peas are bursting with nutrients. They provide good to very good amounts of 8 vitamins, 7 minerals, dietary fiber and protein. Green peas’ supercharged nutritional profile can supercharge your health.” They’re also great for your bones, your heart and your overall health and energy.

Fettuccine with Peas and Prosciutto
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil [plus extra]
1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced [or 1 shallot or small yellow onion, finely chopped—see Kitchen Notes]
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups shelled fresh English peas, from 1-1/2 pounds unshelled peas [or frozen peas—see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
freshly grated Parmesan

16 ounces fettuccine or other ribbon pasta, cooked according to package instructions

Shell the peas, then start a pot of water for cooking the pasta as you prep the rest of the ingredients. When the water is boiling, start the pasta and heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, then the prosciutto, tossing to coat with oil and separate the pieces. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, reducing the heat if it starts to smoke. Add garlic to pan and cook until just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add peas and toss to mix ingredients. Sauté for 1 or 2 minutes, then add cream. Toss to coat prosciutto pea mixture. The cream will pretty much disappear into the dish.

Drain fettuccine and add most of it to the pan. Toss to combine. Add the rest of the fettuccine gradually, making sure it doesn’t overwhelm the other ingredients—if it starts to, discard the remaining pasta. If pasta is dry [mine was], drizzle with extra olive oil and toss to coat. Divide among 4 shallow bowls, using tongs to pick up pasta. Much of the prosciutto pea mixture will remain behind in the pan. Use a spoon to top each serving of pasta with it. Grate some fresh parmesan over each bowl and serve.

Kitchen Notes

So how was it? Different than I expected, in a good way. I pretty much invented this after seeing a couple of springy pastas on magazine covers. I didn’t expect the cream to disappear into the dish as much as it did, but that turned out to be good too—it wasn’t a creamy, soupy dish, but it had the subtle richness of the cream. And the saltiness of the prosciutto and slight sharpness of the garlic nicely balanced the peas’ sweetness. All in all, it was less delicate and “mumsie, dear” than I feared it might be.

Garlic, onions, something. I used garlic, a good choice, I think, to balance the sweetness of the peas and richness of the cream’s flavor. You could also use a finely chopped shallot or small yellow onion.

Fresh is best. If at all possible, use fresh peas for this dish. If you can’t get them, frozen is next best, having much less sodium than canned. Add the frozen peas to the cooking pasta a couple of minutes before it’s done.


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan C May 13, 2009 at 6:12 am

Gee, I can’t get past the image of Marion hand feeding you freshly shelled peas. That’s my new fantasy. (Um, except not with Marion)

And that was a perfect pea primer.

Terry B May 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Perhaps I should clarify, Susan C: Marion dumps handfuls of shelled peas into my hand as I drive, and I feed myself. Guess I did make it sound kind of “Peel Me a Grape,” didn’t I?

Laura May 13, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Sounds like quite the match made in heaven with you two pea lovers! This pasta brings back great memories of one of my dad’s five dishes that he would cook for us if my mom had had a long day…his was fettucine with ham and frozen peas in white sauce. Yours looks decidedly more gourmet! By the way, for the pea craving that hits when you don’t have access to fresh peas, I’ve had pretty decent luck with the Whole Foods Frozen Petits Pois.

altadenahiker May 13, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Ah, leave us our fantasies.

This looks good, and easy. I might add hot peppers, what do you think?

Terry B May 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Laura—And yay to your dad for cooking for your mom! BTW, even though prosciutto is sometimes called Italian bacon, if you can’t find prosciutto, substitute good quality ham. Bacon would overpower the dish.

altadenahiker—I think actual hot peppers would add one flavor/texture too many, but crushed red pepper flakes could give it an interesting spicy kick without making it too busy.

Ashlea May 13, 2009 at 10:49 pm

This looks like such a fresh summer pasta… I will definitely have to try this!

Hannah May 13, 2009 at 11:10 pm

In our house, my dad made this exact dish, but called it ‘pasta carbonara.’ Obviously, he is incorrect.
Though, I prefer this version any day over a true carbonara.

dani May 14, 2009 at 2:36 am

This sounds great! I’ve never seen English peas here, so appreciate Laura’s tip about the frozen peas at Whole Foods. I would imagine substituting sugar snap peas in the pod would be a different dish entirely.

Terry B May 14, 2009 at 3:09 am

Thanks, Ashlea!

Hannah—I have exactly the same feelings for Marion’s non-traditional take on pasta carbonara.

dani—Sugar snap peas are so big and bulky, I don’t think they’d play well here. Snow peas might be interesting, though, but still completely different. You’re probably better off with frozen peas to retain the basic spirit of this dish. And Laura has me intrigued about the Whole Foods Frozen Petits Pois, but check first and see if they have fresh—now is the season for them.

Alta May 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm

LOVE fresh peas. Can’t hardly find them around here, but thankfully my closest farmer’s market regularly has frozen fresh ones…Locally grown peas that were frozen. Still better than frozen from the store. Love this dish, will have to try!

Katharine May 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm

I just ate a dish exactly like this one at Giacomo’s in Boston’s North End — fabulous that I now have a recipe to recreate it!

altadenahiker May 14, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Did you say yes or no on the hot peppers? I couldn’t hear you, I was driving a tractor.

Carolyn May 14, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Ha! I wonder if you could soften that sentence on bacon …. As Ronnie would say, “There you go again!”

katrina May 15, 2009 at 2:18 am

This DOES sound intriguing, but I doubt the English peas will make it to the pan. However, if they do, this will be the recipe to try! Like you, I’m a dedicated fresh-raw-pea eater.

Terry B May 15, 2009 at 3:21 am

Frozen locals, eh, Alta? Sounds like Chicago in January. Hope you like the dish!

Katharine—I just looked up Giacomo’s on the Google. Sounds like a wonderful restaurant!

Everyone—altadenahiker’s latest comment is a little inside joke revolving around drinking NyQuil and operating heavy machinery. Neither of us is recommending it, of course, but if nothing good is on TV…

Carolyn— How about this? “Bacon would overpower the dish—with its bacony awesomeness!

katrina—Good, aren’t they?

Allison Lemons May 15, 2009 at 5:39 am

Fresh peas are definitely key here. There is nothing like fresh peas in pasta. A favorite of mine is simply peas and onions with olive oil and a little salt. mmm….

Carolyn May 15, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Terry, folks over on Twitter have gotten wind of this recipe and are demanding your presence there. (My friend Maggie had some pea shoots to use and a hunk of prosciutto in the fridge and is smart enough to know a highest and best use when she reads about it.) You don’t tweet, do you? A search for “blue kitchen” returned no results and the fascinating question “Do you mean ‘the witcher?'” so I’m thinking not. I don’t recommend it, actually — it’s sort of awful in that compelling-train-wreck way. But thought you’d like to know that your recipe is turning some heads!

Terry B May 15, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Allison—That sounds wonderfully simple and delicious!

Carolyn—Okay, okay. I’ve been working up to tweeting. Think I’ve got a weekend project laid out for me here to get serious about my dormant Twitter account. Thanks, I think.

Kristina May 15, 2009 at 9:48 pm

This looks lovely. Now I think I know what I’m going to do with some prosciutto I have in the ‘fridge. Just have to get my hands on some fresh peas…

Donald May 16, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Nice dish Terry. This is the type of dish I like to use as a go-to.

Desmone007 May 17, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I know what you mean! There’s just nothing like fresh English peas (where I’m from we call them Green peas), the canned ones just don’t cut it. And added to that my favorite, pasta – this recipe sounds excellent, Terry!

Carolyn May 18, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Two of your bloggers met in Kentucky this weekend (halfway between the two of us). I loved this pasta recipe so much, and couldn’t stop thinking about it, that I ordered pasta carbonera at a little dive in Morehouse (near the university). Omigosh! It was heaven. And yes, it had chicken, not bacon!

Kevin May 26, 2009 at 1:28 am

Nice and simple and yet so tasty! The peas and prosciutto combo is a great one!

kitty May 26, 2009 at 3:24 am

mmm….this looks absolutely yum.
Mark and I will have to try this one out, and overcome our laziness toward cooking!

Emily May 12, 2010 at 1:27 am

oh my goodness so yummy! made it with bacon and green beans and it is delicious!

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