Tag Archives: mascarpone

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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Tomato Mascarpone Pasta

I can’t count the times that I’ve heard my mom use the phrase “In my humble but correct opinion . . .” When I was young, I thought it was just one of her mom-isms, like her habit of waking us up in the mornings with an annoyingly happy song and a dose of joy that our sleep-encrusted selves were simply not ready for. Or her habit of encouraging our problem solving skills by chirping ‘Figure it out yourself!’ in that maddeningly cheerful voice that made you want to shoot a small rabbit. But as an adult, I have connected some psychological dots, and that phrase “In my humble but correct opinion” does a lot to explain a whole family-treeful of people.

See, the women on that side of the family, well–they like to be right. A lot. Especially a certain member of the family whose name stars with a ‘J-‘ and ends with an ‘-essica.’ It doesn’t help matters that she actually is right most of the time, dagnabbit.

I’ve been hitting myself over the head for years with the Mallet of Truth, trying to drive into my puny little brain the following: being right isn’t the most important thing in life! And I think I’m actually making some progress. However, as soon as I sat down to type up this recipe, my mom’s old phrase started emerging from the battleground of my own psyche. Since I haven’t even had my first coffee of the morning, I will make no attempt to resist it at this time. So here goes:

In my humble but correct opinion, Kayotic Kitchen is one of the best food blogs out there. This Dutch cooking whirlwind of a woman creates recipes that have both innovative flavor combinations and that comforting quality about them. And did I mention her stellar photography? Basically, I would dig into anything that Kay cooked up with more relish than I care to expound on (I think I’ve already done enough expounding for one morning). Kay is responsible for inspiring this African stew as well as this amazing Tomato Mozzarella tart. So if you at all have a thing for food blogs, it is your bounden duty as a human being to go look at her blog.

Okay! *stepping off podium* Enough jabbering! Let’s get to the cooking. This little pasta number is a simple dish, with just the right amount of creaminess, herbs, and rich tomatoey-ness. With my twist (red wine and more garlic!), here we go!


(Serves 5)

1 lb spaghetti
1 TBS olive oil
1 onion
5 garlic cloves
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
5 oz mascarpone
2 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup red wine
Parmesan curls, to serve
Handful fresh basil

Oops! Forgot the wine.

I love the price on that Yellow Tail brand.

Dice the onion finely . . .

. . . and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened.

Season the onion with salt and pepper, then add the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes, stirring to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Pour in the diced tomatoes (please make sure to splash yourself thoroughly with tomato juice during this step–I hear red polka dots are the New Black) . . .

. . . and add the Italian seasoning.

Give it a nice stir.

Bring the sauce to a boil, then partially cover the pan (leaving a small opening on one side between the pan and the lid) and cook the sauce over medium low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the red wine . . .

. . . and cook for 10 more minutes, with the pan still mostly covered.

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente.

While the pasta and sauce are a-cookin’, it’s prime time to finely slice or mince the basil . . .

. . . and shave some Parmesan. I just use a vegetable peeler to get those nice thin slices:

And don’t stop until you have a goodly pile of shavings–I never heard anyone crying ’cause there was too much Parmesan.

Except for Luke. He’s my dear cousin. He’s lactose intolerant. Who knows–a large mountain of Parmesan might indeed bring a tear to his eye.

Stir the mascarpone into the finished tomato sauce.

Ignore the pool of grease that’s quickly becoming apparent. The way I figure it, the faster you stir it in, the faster the evidence will disappear.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

It’s better to overseason it a little since it’s going to be flavoring a whole whoppin’ pound of pasta.

I also wondered to myself if the sauce would need a pinch of sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes–but it did not. In my humble but correct opinion, that is.

Stir the pasta into the sauce along with the basil.

Tongs are useful at this juncture, in my humbl . . . *hitting self repeatedly*

Top it with Parmesan shavings to serve.

Please forgive the wacky color balance of these pictures and just focus on how good a bite of this would taste. Does taste. Has tasted.

And while we’re on the subject, have I mentioned that I can do a really cool trick? I grab a strand of spaghetti, see, and while holding onto one end, I swallow it.

Then I drag it up and out through my throat. It’s the tickliest sensation you can imagine, and if I had a strand of spaghetti I’d totally do it right now for you.

I regularly horrified my younger siblings with this trick during our youth. Then we all grew up and moved out and I ran out of people to horrify. So I got married. And I started a blog. Problem solved!

The End.

Click here for printer-friendly version: Tomato Mascarpone Pasta