Orecchiette aux petits pois et jambon de pays

Pasta with peas and country ham

This dish is a delight in spring when fresh peas are available, but it can be made all year long using frozen peas. Preparation is quick and easy, and you need only one pot as the peas are cooked directly with the pasta. For a vegetarian version, simply omit the ham.

Which pasta to choose? My favorite is the one known as orecchiette, or ‘little ears’, but other types work equally well. The big question is quantity. How much dry pasta to cook depends on its shape. For compact forms like orecchiette or farfalle, I use about 1 cup per person, while for larger forms like penne (at right) or pipe rigate I use 1-1/2 cups. But this is approximate, and the quantity also depends on the appetites of the people at your table.

For best results, use a top-quality crème fraîche or heavy cream. As for the ham, I prefer this dish with a dry-cured ham like prosciutto crudo, jambon de Bayonne or Serrano. (Other recipes call for small cubes of baked ham.) If starting with peas in the pod, 9 ounces (250 grams) will give you about 3/4 cup of shelled peas, enough for two people. The parmesan, as always, should be freshly grated.

The quantities below will serve two people.

3/4 cup (90 grams) fresh or frozen peas
2 thin slices dry-cured ham
2 cups (180 grams) orecchiette, or 3 cups (220 grams) of a larger pasta (see above)
1/2 cup (10 cl) crème fraîche or heavy cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. freshly grated parmesan

Begin by shelling the peas, or measuring out the frozen peas.

Slice the ham in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into little strips.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of sea salt or table salt.

Add the pasta. Check the cooking instructions on the packet. Two minutes before the pasta arrives at al dente, add the peas. Cook for two more minutes. Drain through a colander and shake to cast off all the water.

Rinse out the pasta pot, add the cream and return it to the stove, placing it over medium heat. When the cream starts to bubble, add the pasta and peas. Stir to coat with the cream.

Turn off the heat, add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and add the sliced ham.

Serve in shallow bowls with a sprinkling of parmesan on top. Bring the rest of the parmesan to the table. Serves two.

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