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?
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.
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.
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.
Click here for printer-friendly version: Creamy Ham and Peas Pasta, a.k.a. “Picky Eater’s Pasta”