A couple of times every spring, I’ll go through the trouble of making fresh peas. When the peas are plump and fresh, they are sweet enough to eat raw (my mother enjoys them raw more than cooked).
The labor of making peas begins with the selection process. You should always buy them where you can touch and squeeze each pod–if the pods are pre-packaged, you might not be getting a consistent product. You can’t always tell by looking at the pods whether the peas inside are plump and worthwhile. Like fava beans, you want pods that feel full of nice fat peas–not half-empty pods or pods that look plump and round, but only have tiny peas inside. The yield of peas to pods is small, so you generally want to buy a lot (2 or 3 lbs of pods) even if you’re only cooking for four. Therefore, you’ll be standing over the bin of peas for a while and squeezing each pod before you select it.
To shuck, simply run your thumbnail lengthwise along the perforation in the pod and split it open. Scrape out all the peas and set aside until ready to cook (or eat raw).
Once the peas are shucked and blanched, you’re ready to assemble the rest of the ingredients and cook the pasta. The pancetta is thinly sliced, then diced; shallots are chopped and set aside.
The other inspiration for this meal was a bunch of fresh chives that my neighbor Beppi cut from his garden this morning. Those chives will be perfect sprinkled on top of the finished dish. Chives and peas are a great combination.
Pasta, Piselli e Pancetta
1 lb fresh egg fettucine
1 lb freshly shucked peas (the yield from 2 – 3 lbs of pods)
2 small shallots, diced finely
1/4 lb pancetta, thinly sliced, then sliced into smaller pieces
1/2 c white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tbls olive oil
3 tbls butter
1/4 c fresh chives
grated parmiggiano for sprinkling on top
Boil the peas for about 5 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain, set aside. Keep the liquid and boil the pasta in it.
In a broad skillet on low heat, saute the shallots and pancetta in the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter until the pancetta renders some of its fat and the shallots just begin to color (about 8 minutes). Add in the wine and reduce for about 3 minutes. Add in the broth and allow to simmer while the pasta cooks.
When the pasta is just about done (fresh egg pasta cooks very quickly), toss the pasta into the skillet, along with about a cup of cooking liquid (the fresh pasta absorbs a lot of liquid and you want to keep a saucy consistency). Add the last tablespoon of butter and stir over high heat to incorporate.
Sprinkle with chives and grated cheese at the table.