Lemon Ricotta Pasta with Peas and Mint
Peas are some of the first vegetables to enjoy from the garden. However, there is no reason to wait to make this satisfying pasta. Peas and corn are two vegetables that are as good frozen as they are fresh. In fact, if you are buying fresh peas and corn from the grocery store they are most likely older and less tasty than the ones found in the frozen food aisle. Why? You ask? The answer is twofold. First, when these vegetables are harvested they are quickly sent to the processing plant and flash-frozen, usually within one day of harvesting, if not the same day. Secondly, both peas and corn are starchy vegetables. When they are at the peak of their ripeness they are quite sweet. Left on the vine or stalk too long or picked and left in cold storage for too long the vegetables’ sugar converts to starch. It must be said though, that some varieties of these two are hybrid or genetically modified (GMO) to be sweet for a longer period after harvest. Choose organic, frozen and you will never be disappointed.
Mint with peas are a timelessly perfect pairing. Interestingly mint is in the same botanical family as basil, which is most often served with a variety of pasta dishes. Commercial pasta made with durum semolina flour is the quality standard from Italy. However, I have found that some whole wheat pasta rival the outstanding flavor and chewiness of semolina pasta plus being a healthier option. All the ingredients in this dish should be of premium quality to pull it off well. As often said, the simpler the recipe the more important the quality of ingredients must be. Splurge on that big wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Since it is an aged, low moisture cheese it will keep whole or grated for a month or more in the refrigerator. And let’s face it, the generic version of parmesan is like what American cheese slices are to a well-aged crumbly cheddar cheese. You are worth it, splurge!
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mint leaves, loosely packed
¼ teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces whole-wheat fusilli
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (halved)
½ cup onion, finely diced
½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup peas, fresh and pre-cooked or frozen and thawed
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated (halved)
Fresh ground black pepper
1. Bring two quarts of water in a pot to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, process the garlic, mint, and sea salt into a rough paste in a mini food processor or mortar and pestle. Blend in one and a half tablespoons olive oil and reserve.
3. Add the pasta, and one and a half teaspoons kosher salt to the boiling water and stir until the water returns to a boil. Cook for the time designated according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and reserve at least one-half cup of cooking water or more.
4. Meanwhile, heat a skillet with the remaining one and a half tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil shimmers add the onion. Cook onions until softened, about three to five minutes. Add the ricotta cheese, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, peas, one-fourth cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, black pepper, reserved mint paste and one-half cup pasta cooking water. Stir until smooth. Incorporate the cooked pasta into the skillet. Taste, Think, Transform with salt, black pepper and/or more pasta water if needed. Place in soup plate bowls, top with the remaining cheese, and serve immediately.