My buddy Mike reminded me in a roundabout way tonight about one of my favorite cold weather pastas. Ironic to talk about it during this hot dry summer but with fall right around the corner, I can dream, can't I?
The recipe owes its provenance to his mother, who is a fantastic, charming and prolific cook. My wife and I eat it often in the spring for obvious reasons but it is just so simple, so satisfying and so absolutely fine. It wasn't a always a no brainer...when I first proposed the dish to Erin one night early in our relationship, she thought it sounded horrible. She had grown up with a distrust of peas and the horrible ways that they can be exploited. But with our fresh peas and good country bacon, this recipe becomes an absolute, rib sticking killer in the early months.
Here is how we do it:
Pasta Alla Libecci
Start water boiling for your pasta in a pot.
Take about a cup of good thick belly bacon, chop it coursley and add it into a sauce pan over medium heat. (NOTE HERE: Guanciale, cured pork jowl or pancetta is the ideal, but where I live, that is a distant dream- and of course we eat LOCALLY, so high quality locally produced bacon is our compromise). Cook the bacon about 10 minutes, allowing it to render and then add a couple of cups of chopped onions and a swirl of olive oil if necessary (I sometimes add some dried rosemary at this point).Cook until the onions begin to carmelize and then add a couple of cups of fresh peas (frozen are ok but use petite, they are sweeter), salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook until peas are tender but still intact. Mike told me once that he likes the peas cooked until they are on the mushy side but with great peas I think you want to keep them alive. However you like. The flavor of the rendered bacon, the sweet, bowned onions and tender peas will kill you. Awesome sauce! Set it aside or keep on low heat.
Add salt and then pasta to the boiling water. When it is a stage BEFORE aldente, take a couple of ladlefuls of the starchy pasta water and add to the sauce. This will give it creaminess that almost doesn't make sense (an old trick from an old Italian friend). Drain pasta and add to the sauce and over heat, finish it, tossing. It will develop a silky finish. In the winter, I will add a couple of raw, whipped eggs, and stir in off the heat right before serving-in the fashion of a Roman Carbonara. Either way, I serve it steaming and liberally sprinkled with a good grating cheese and a finishing swirl of olive oil to make it " smile".
Believe me when I tell you, THIS is rib sticking soul food. It is manna for the early season gardner, the hunter, the skier and the sledder.
Try it this fall. I know you have some fresh frozen peas somewhere :)