Saturday, July 10, 2010

pasta with ricotta, peas and basil

pasta with peas and ricotta
we've always been committed
to home cooking,
but since we've moved,
i feel like we've strengthened our resolve.

we were always strict,
sunday to thursday,
but on friday and saturday it was
so easy, and so nice, to just go out,
get out, be somewhere else.
but, we knew that when we moved,
we'd give up a lot of that up,
using time at a restaurant as a
special treat, not a given.

so, we've been in the kitchen quite a bit.
but, instead of the very involved
dinners i used to take on without
a thought, now that we wake up very early
and both of our commutes are taxing,
i feel like we're not really cooking.
we're stirring some ingredients
together, turning on the oven and loving
the quick boil option on our range.
but, except for a handful of things -
larry's addictive guacamole,
a salad with scallops and watermelon,
boursin-stuffed turkey burgers we made
for father's day -
i can't really remember most of
what we've eaten. and that obviously means,
there's not so much to write about.

but this dish?
this is one i should have told you
about a year ago.
it's by no means a
company's coming meal.
but, it's fast, it can be made without an oven -
vital right now in this 100 degree heat - and uses
no more than a pot, a bowl and a spatula.
and, i think it tastes pretty darn good, too.

i usually save it for a day in which we
need dinner pretty quickly, or one in which
it's too hot outside to muster up much else.
but this time, the day started out as neither
and i wondered if i was wasting it on a
pleasantly warm easy-going day. but then,
fate stepped in and kept me at work
one hour later than expected for something
i never would have expected and once i
finally got out of there, i crawled in traffic
for almost two hours. suddenly, pasta
tossed with ricotta, peas, lemon and basil
seemed perfect.

i quickly said hello to larry
who was outside,
trimming a hedge.
after i put a pot of water over the flame
and then remembered that the precious
rapid boil also means that i have to
prep quite fast, i pulled out the ingredients.
ricotta, lemon, parm, purple garlic
a good hunk of parm,
a lemon,
and this time,
a clove of purple garlic.
purple garlic
purple garlic.
i'm usually content with
run of the mill cloves, but
last week i saw purple garlic
at the market and snapped
it up the same way i had
pink lemons a year earlier.
but, like the pink lemons whose
flesh was like that of a pale grapefruit,
but boasted the flavor
of typical everyday lemon,
i felt duped. purple garlic
is sheathed in a purple skin,
but on the inside, it's just as
cream-colored as the next.

here's the one difference though -
purple garlic is significantly stronger
and sharper. i used only one clove,
albeit, one that was certainly larger
than usual, but still nothing crazy.
as soon as i tasted the creamy mixture
for seasoning, i knew we were in
trouble. it was garlicky.
really, really garlicky.
but, back to the pasta.
i usually turn to shells,
or something else that
acts like a vessel for
creamy dollops of the lemony ricotta
and the still firm peas.
once they're in the water - or maybe
a little before - i grate lemon zest and
parm into the cheese. i roll basil leaves
into a cigar and trim them thinly
into a chiffonade. i chop a clove of garlic.
i add them, along with kosher salt,
a healthy dose of black pepper and
a large squeeze of lemon juice,
to the bowl. i mix. and i taste.
ricota, grated parm, chopped garlic, shredded basil, lemon zest, black pepper
then, i adjust. some days the
mixture is screaming for another hit
of lemon, other times it's lacking
black pepper or another pinch
of salt. sometimes (but, no,
not this time) it needs more garlic.
this night, the culprit was basil.
and i didn't have any left.
so, in went chives, which we took
from our pot of chives outside
on the deck. the tiny snips were
a new, but welcome, addition.
snipped chives
three peas
it was then that i looked at the clock
and saw that there were 4 minutes left
of boiling time. lucky. i poured peas
into the pot of pasta and let them
simmer away, bobbing in time
with the bubbles breaking on the
water's surface.

and soon,
the timer was beeping,
the pasta and peas were drained.
peas and pasta
i poured them,
with a little water still clinging,
into the ricotta and mixed.
we haven't had this dish in over
a year and as soon as i tasted a
piece of pasta for final seasoning,
i was transported back to our apartment,
last may, when it was sweltering outside,
and inside as well. i remembered that last
year, even though the only heat came
from the steam of the boiling water,
when we ate, on the floor and at
our coffee table,
i was too hot to enjoy.

this time, i portioned two bowls,
sat down with larry
at the dining room table and was
thankful for no frills meals
on crazy days.
and, for my chive plant outside.
and, for the deck.
and, for the air conditioning.
all mixed together
pasta with ricotta, peas and basil
this is really good with homemade ricotta (you can find the recipe, here), and really it doesn't add that much more hands on time. but, if cheesemaking is not in the cards for your evening, i will not give you even a second of grief for buying a container. if there are fresh peas in the market, it's your lucky day. but, again, if it's not springtime and you buy frozen, as i did this time, no grief. just remember to mix, taste, adjust and taste again until it's perfect for you.

1 pound pasta (i like medium shells)
1 pound fresh or frozen peas
1 pound ricotta cheese (i usually use part-skim if i buy)
3/4 cup freshly grated parm
1 lemon, zested and halved (seeds removed)
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil
20 chives

in large pot of salted water, cook pasta according to package directions, adding frozen peas to the water when there is still 4 minutes left of cooking time. (i like mine still with a little pop, but if you prefer yours softer, adjust accordingly. also, if you are using fresh peas, 2-3 minutes should work.)

meanwhile, in bowl, combine ricotta, parm, lemon zest and chopped garlic. stack basil leaves, roll stack into a tight cigar shape and thinly slice with sharp knife (you may need to make two stacks); add to bowl. using scissors, snip chives directly into the bowl. remove seeds from lemon halves and squeeze in juice. season with salt and pepper. taste and adjust.

add hot pasta and peas to ricotta mixture and stir gently to combine. taste and quickly adjust seasoning, if necessary. divide among bowls and top with chopped chives, if desired.

4 comments: said...

So, so simple but completely perfect for the summer heat. I can't wait to make this. Thanks!

Kelsey said...

classic and classy. yum. thanks for the inspiration!
Kelsey, at

Blair said...

Sounds delicious and something I could totally do! Thanks for the recipe!

brooke said...

foodexpressed and kelsey - thanks, hope you enjoy!

blair - yes, you can absolutely make this. go for it and report back (to me, anyway).