kitchen firsts: fresh pea and pea shoot pasta carbonara
I realized this year that somehow I have never managed to shell fresh peas before. Favas, yes, but never regular shelling peas! I’ve been wanting to get some for quite awhile, but I had trouble finding them when pea season supposedly started, so all my bookmarking of yummy pea recipes was going unused. Perhaps our unseasonable rain in May and June slowed the peas down and kept them out of the markets when I was expecting to find them, but now that it’s almost August and we’re moving on to zucchini, tomatoes, and corn galore, I had pretty much forgotten about the elusive shelling pea!
That is, until I spotted some shelling peas at the market earlier this week. And it just so happened that I was at the market next to the library, so I popped in to see if any of my requested cookbooks had come in, and luckily my long-awaited copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques had finally arrived. I couldn’t wait to peek inside, so I flipped through the glossy pages and what was the first recipe that caught my eye? A pasta carbonara using freshly shelled peas AND pea shoots! Have I mentioned that I love pea shoots? With the discovery of the shelling peas and then the discovery of the ideal recipe to make use of them happening within ten minutes of each other, I could pretty much only conclude that making this pasta was my destiny.
It is a good thing that things in the pea department seemed so unquestionably destined, because otherwise I might have been skeptical about this recipe. Don’t get me wrong, I would never throw Suzanne Goin or her food out of the kitchen, but I have not been a huge fan of pasta carbonara since my time in France. You see, my host family would make it and crack the eggs on top without stirring it up, and then because I was the guest, they’d give me the “best part” with the most runny egg. I am working on tolerating runny yolks, but runny whites are a deal-breaker for me. So I kind of went all anti-carbonara at that point and haven’t missed it since. But this recipe, with its fresh peas and pea shoots, was enough to convince me to try it again, and I am so glad that I did. I mean it’s bacon and pancetta and eggs and cheese and pasta? And fresh peas and shoots? Carbonara is soo back on my pasta repertoire.
The good thing about making carbonara yourself is that you get to control the stirring of the eggs into the hot pasta. If you’re a bit squeamish about raw egg, you’ll be comforted by watching the mixing of the two and seeing the raw egg turn into a luxurious sauce. And the rest is yummy, savory history. If you must, you can use frozen peas in place of the freshly shelled peas. And you could omit the pea shoots if you can’t find them or don’t like them. You could even make this with no veg at all, although I think that would be a shame (how about trying this with some of those overabundant zucchinis?). If you don’t want to buy bacon and pancetta, you can simply double the amount of one or the other. One way or another, I suggest you try revisiting carbonara if you haven’t had it in awhile. I thought it might be too heavy for a summer evening, but the pop of the fresh peas and pea shoots lightened it up (as much as this dish can be lightened) and made it a delight.
Fresh Pea and Pea Shoot Pasta Carbonara
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin
2/3 lb smallish pasta (we used just over half a box of mini farfalle; orecchiette was suggested in the original)
1 tsp(ish) swirl of olive oil
3-4 slices bacon, chopped
4-6 slices pancetta, sliced up (although it always seems more like shredding)
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
generous 1/2 cup diced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash of dried thyme, or 1 heaping tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 to 1.5 cups freshly shelled peas, rinsed (at least 1 pound peas in the pod)
1/2 to 1 cup pea shoots, rinsed and cut into bite-size lengths if they’ve grown long
1 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
First, set a large pot of salted water to boil. Then heat a large saute pan over medium heat for a minute or two and coat very lightly with a swirl of olive oil. Add the bacon and pancetta and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are crisping up but still tender. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a bowl, mix in the parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.
When the pasta water boils, cook the pasta according to package directions. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme to the bacon and pancetta, and saute for another five minutes or so, until the onion is softened and translucent. Assuming your pasta is nearly done, toss in the peas and stir well into the onions and bacon. Allow to cook a minute or two while you deal with the pasta.
As the pasta finishes, reserve about a half cup of pasta water in case you need to thin out the sauce later. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and immediately toss it into the saute pan with everything else. Stir well, and season to taste with salt and pepper. When everything is nicely combined, turn off the heat and pull the pan off the burner. Pour the egg mixture into the pasta and stir vigorously, cooking the eggs with the residual heat of the pasta. You don’t want the eggs to scramble, you just want them to coat it and make a sauce. If you feel the sauce is too thick, pour in some of the reserved pasta water. If it’s too runny and you’re afraid of the eggs, put it back on the burner and the residual heat will finish it off. When the sauce is ready, toss in the pea shoots and chopped parsley. Serve immediately, garnished with additional parmesan.