Pasta e Piselli (Pasta with Peas)

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In the last week the weather in Tuscany has dramatically improved. It is sunny and pleasantly warm and one can feel that summer is getting closer and closer. A true sign of warmer weather is that spring vegetables are now appearing in the stores. Last night Celia and I had steamed Tuscan asparagus topped with olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

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Today we had a mid morning coffee in the bar in our piazza (and a cornetto as we had a little pang of hunger) and then we walked to our local Ortofrutta, which always sells great fresh fruit and veg, mostly local, at very reasonable prices. We immediately spotted piselli, peas, fresh in their pods and so I said: ‘Let’s have Pasta e piselli for lunch, we’ve got a bit of pancetta in the fridge that needs eating’. And that was it.

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Pasta e piselli is a traditional Neapolitan recipe that I often choose when out and about in Naples and I always end up in a Tavola Calda or a traditional Trattoria in the back streets of the old town. I now live in Lucca but cooking Neapolitan recipes always gives me a bit of connection to my roots. I remember when piselli where cheaper and more plentiful then now and my mother buying lots for a pasta or for a big “contorno” on Sundays. Because of the amount of work involved and the fun of it we children loved to remove the peas from their pods.

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I bought 250 Grams (about 1/2 pound) of fresh piselli, not a lot as the pods make up a large part of the weight, but it was just for two.

Out of season I always use good quality/organic frozen peas. They’re fine and require a shorter cooking time, about 15 minutes.

If you cannot find pancetta in a good supermarket or an Italian deli, look for good unsmoked bacon.

You can use any short pasta if you prefer, but traditionally people use tubetti (short little tubes) or broken spaghetti.

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(Serves 2)

Pasta 250 gr. ( about ½ pound). I used spaghetti.

Pancetta 50 grams (2 oz)

2 tbsp extra virgin Olive Oil

1 medium onion

250 grams ( about ½ pound) of fresh peas in their pods

3 or 4 stalks of fresh flat parsley

Salt for the pasta to your liking (my ratio:  10 grams for 1 litter or 1/2 tbsp for 4 cups of water)

Water handy

Grated Parmesan or Grana cheese

Ground pepper

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Remove the peas from their pods

Slice the Pancetta

Chop the onions

Pour the olive oil in a frying pan or a low casserole and cook over a medium flame/setting.

Add the pancetta and fry lightly for a couple of minutes, then add the onions and continue cooking them in the oil until they softens and turn golden.

Add a cup of water and then the peas (you do not want to fry them).

When it starts boiling turn the flame down or put the stove on a low setting and cook for about half an hour until the peas soften. If it gets too dry add a further half a glass of water.

In the meantime bring a saucepan with water and salt up to the boil.

Break the spaghetti into short pieces.

Put the pasta in and cook it for ¾ of the prescribed time as you need to finish the cooking with the peas.

Using a handle strainer scoop the pasta into the casserole/frying pan and stir it gently with a wooden spoon into the peas and pancetta sauce. If it is gets too dry add some of the pasta cooking water. Cook for a couple of minutes or until the pasta is “al dente”.

Serve it slightly watery and sprinkle with grated Parmesan and ground pepper. This time I preferred it a bit milder without pepper.

Eat it with a spoon.

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