Creamy Ham and Peas Pasta, a.k.a. "Picky Eater’s Pasta"

In Alaska, I was reminded that I love simple meals. Sometimes I forget this, and am moved to crimp individual packets of ravioli that end up in the trash (I know, I know–I need to get over that one). Sometimes I forget this, and make a complicated dish with lots of parts, running around the kitchen looking frantic, stressed, and crazed.

“Why do you do this to yourself, baby?” my husband asks, genuinely perplexed.

Why indeed, when a 5-minute toss-it-together breakfast sandwich sends my man into dinnertime bliss?

Why indeed.

So here’s a very simple little pasta dish that we tossed together on a Monday night.

It’s not going to be on the front of Bon Appétit magazine, but it’s effortless, pretty tasty, and it has kind of a ‘blank slate’ base to it that means you could easily add different veggies and meats to spice things up depending on your particular tastes, such as asparagus, shrimp, a diced fresh tomato, a splash of wine, that leftover chicken breast or some thinly sliced flank steak, flecks of fried red onion, or even a little lemon zest to take it to the next level. In fact, I’ve given it the alternate name of “Picky Eater’s Pasta.” The dish screams ‘safe,’ but it leaves room for you to add according to the palates present at your dinner table. I’ll let those of you with picky eaters in the house confirm its effectiveness at your leisure.


(Serves 4)

1 lb pasta (small or medium shells)
2 TBS butter
6 oz mascarpone
2 TBS milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 slice thick-cut deli ham (1 lb)
Salt and pepper
1 cup reserved pasta water, to taste
Optional: diced tomato, cooked chicken, leftover flank seak, asparagus, shrimp, onion, etc.

See how minimal the ingredient gathering is? Wow. I’m amazing myself. Is this my kitchen? Why are there less than a dozen ingredients gathered? Something doesn’t feel right, Mildred!

Let’s begin at the beginning. Salt some water . . .

. . . bring it to a boil, and cook that pasta! Cook it to a little under al dente, because it will finish cooking in the sauce. Reserve some pasta water before draining it (just dip it out with a measuring cup–and please don’t scald your fingers!), then set the pasta aside.

Cut the ham into matchstick-sized slices.

Melt the butter in the same pot the pasta was in:

If you want to add any alternate raw veggies or components (zucchini, onion, asparagus, shrimp, etc.) now is the time! Cook them in the butter until they’re to your satisfaction, seasoning with salt and pepper as they cook.

But I’m going basic here. So simply add the mascarpone, milk, ham, some salt and some pepper to the melted butter. Go generous with the pepper! It really brings the dish to life.

Cook over medium heat, stirring until the mascarpone is melted. Add 2 TBS of the fresh Parmesan. And even more black pepper, why not?

And who am I kidding . . . horrified, I discovered we were out of the good fresh Parmesan, and had to use canned stuff. Yup. But guess what–it was all fine in the end.

Add the pasta to the sauce, 3 more TBS of Parmesan, along with the frozen peas and any other cooked components you feel like tossing in . . .

. . . and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the peas are heated through. If the sauce seems a little thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to taste, until it loosens up to your liking.

Ta daa!

Taste the pasta and re-season to your liking.

Like I said, my guess it that this is a veeeery safe dish to make for any picky eaters out there, small or large. It’s good, but doesn’t have a distinct punch of any kind. It’s just comforting, unpretentious, creamy pasta.

And I didn’t go crazy while making it, which my husband really appreciates.

Though apparently I took way too many pictures of it that all look kind of the same. Oh well, it’s a character flaw I’m still working on.

Serve, and finish off with generous amounts of the extra Parmesan.

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22 thoughts on “Creamy Ham and Peas Pasta, a.k.a. "Picky Eater’s Pasta"

  1. Joanne

    I feel like, as food bloggers, we overcomplicate our meals far too much! When you have rockstar ingredients like mascarpone and pasta…simple really is all you need.

  2. Julie M.

    This is my issue as well, I just can’t stop adding! I’ll definitely be making this, you’ll just have to hold me back from adding the kitchen sink to it. :)~

    1. Jenna Post author

      I don’t know if that constitutes a problem for you though, because the recipes you share on your site all look fantastic!

    1. Jenna Post author

      Thanks Helen. Like I said, that picture of the cookies just drew me in . . . I was helpless against its call.

  3. Veronica Miller

    This sounds just LOVELY! You know, I used to love a dish my friend’s Mom would make…she just added a can of tuna and some peas to packaged mac and cheese (sort of like a cheesy tuna noodle casserole on the stovetop)! This reminds me of a home cooked, upscale version of that. I don’t know about you, but I feel pressure to make foods a certain way because I will be blogging them (such as buying a block of fresh parm rather than the powdered stuff we really use, lol). But lately I’ve been posting really basic meals that call for stuff most bloggers wouldn’t dare to use (canned soup! onion soup mix! cake mix! the horror!) and I haven’t gotten any flack so I’m trying not to worry so much about the standards I imagine my readers have.

    OK, now this is going to be a really long comment b/c I have to share a little story with you. When I was making the brown butter chocolate chip cookies, I ruined the first batch by forgetting the browned butter but I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong and was absolutely agonizing over the dry, not-as-wonderful-as-usual cookies, and my husband got pretty fed up with me. “Sometimes I wish you’d never bake again!” he exclaimed, later apologizing b/c he doesn’t really wish that but just wanted to say the meanest thing he could to me to get me to realize I was being ridiculous. (How cute that was the meanest thing he could say! But it did cut b/c, as you know, I love baking.) Later, he had an “aha!” moment. We were talking about my drama issues when it comes to baking/cooking and he recalled how his mother reacted when he got mad with computer programming in the 80s. He would get SO so mad when he couldn’t get the program to do what he wanted and his Mom would say, “if it makes you that mad, don’t do it!” Then Dennis looked at me with big eyes and was like, “Now I get it. Now I get why you do it.” He was able to parallel his own drive and passion for computer programming with mine for baking, and realize why I would get so upset if it didn’t go right, and why I would keep doing it anyway. That was really nice, b/c I do feel bad for how upset I get in his presence, b/c it upsets him too, and it was nice for him to understand why I get so ticked off. HOWEVER, I really am going to work at being a more peaceful and happy cook! I don’t get mad often, but when I do, it’s IS ridiculous.

    1. Jenna Post author

      First, I love that you’ve overcome your fear of using Parm from a can, etc. It’s silly if we’re judging ourselves and editing out what we actually do! So I totally support you. Hurray for freedom in this world of blogging that we both belong to!
      And I always love hearing stories about your relationship with your wonderful husband. That story goes a long way in explaining how sometimes we let our passions (things that normally bring joy) become the center of anxiety. I’ve been working on that . . . “do not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in everything, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God ” . . . It’s easy for me to get anxious about the stuff I cook for dinner parties especially, because I want everything to be fantastic. And perfect. And I want to make fifty million different dishes. But I’ve been–SLOWLY–learning that good conversation and fellowship are the most important part of get-togethers, and the food is just the garnish so to speak! I still have quite a ways to go, but I think I’ve been seeing progress (knock on wood =).

  4. Karma

    I have a similar recipe that pleases my girls every time! (And they are teenagers now so you never know what is going to tickle their fancies) I love to try something new and different whenever I can, but sometimes it is the recipes like these that are the best to fall back on.

  5. Kimby

    SO true about “overdoing it” in the kitchen or “thinking” we need to do more. Great recipe — great comments — great advice — GREAT POST!

  6. Tracy

    Sounds delicious! Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. And, I love when you can easily customize dishes according to your tastes, like this one!

  7. Food Jaunts

    I love these simple kind of throw together dishes. And honestly – I’m a huge fan of ham and pea carbonara and this is definitely channeling it. Love this recipe. I usually always have frozen ham and frozen peas on hand and I’ll be keeping this in mind the next time my dinner recipe fails and I need to throw a surefire one together. Thanks!

  8. Meredith

    I love that you called this “Picky Eater Pasta”… because when I saw that, I instantly thought of my INSANELY picky hubby, who wouldn’t go near this. He’s so frustrating. Imagine how picky he must be to not even want to try THIS! But to ME it looks delicious!!!

    1. Jenna Post author

      Thanks Meredith! It’s ironic that the picky eater wouldn’t eat a dish labeled for picky eaters–maybe I need to rename this recipe! =)


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