|~ Chiesa in Castellina ~|
Castellina in Chianti is a beautiful hill town perfectly situated in the heart of Chianti Classico. As I wrote earlier, we fell in love with this place and visited it often during our stay in Tuscany. We had several excellent meals there and one of them involved an ethereal pasta that I was determined to replicate once we returned home.
See, my wife® loves peas. In almost any form. So it wasn’t surprising when she gravitated toward this primi on Trattoria La Torre’s menu. But pasta, like many other things, is different in Italy. I’ve made pasta with peas and prosciutto before, but never had I seen it presented like this. This was different and is now the new standard. So what’s the key? Read on…..
Pasta con Piselli e Prosciutto
There are two keys to this recipe that set it apart. First, the prosciutto used in Castellina was well rendered and almost caramelized to the point where it had a crunchy exterior and a soft, tender, melty interior. Second, the peas.
In addition to being tossed into the final dish, the sauce for the pasta clearly contained pureed peas. This was an idea I simply had never thought of. It increased the pea flavor of the dish exponentially. Plus, and this cannot be overstated, it contributed to the balance of the dish. Here you get the sweetness of the peas, the saltiness of the prosciutto and the savory component from grated cheese – you have a masterpiece!
1/2 bag frozen peas, plus more for plating
Extra virgin olive oil
4-6 oz. prosciutto or guanciale, diced
1 pound (500g) Fettucine or Tagliatelle
Salt, Pepper, Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Start by rendering the prosciutto. I was determined to do this slowly in order to develop that level of crunch to the exterior but frankly, I failed. I think the result will be better achieved if the pieces are cut larger, almost like strips so that there is more surface area touching the pan. I used pre-packaged diced prosciutto and the result was ok, but not ideal.
What I would suggest is to get either one large piece of prosciutto or guanciale and cut them into longer matchsticks so the surface area in contact with your pan is increased.
|~ Diced Prosciutto. Take your time rendering it ~|
In a medium sauce pan, drizzle some good olive oil and and add the frozen peas. Also add a tablespoon or two of water. Cover and steam over medium heat. Reserve about 1/4 cup of peas to add at that end. Once thawed/cooked remove from the heat, uncover and allow to cool. Once cooled, add a bit more water if needed and then using an immersion blender, pulse into a paste. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Cook the pasta until just short of al dente and drain to the pan where you’ve been rendering the prosciutto. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to thin the pea puree. Combine the pasta, the pea puree and a handful or two of whole peas to the pot and stir to coat. Drizzle the pasta cooking water a little at a time so that the dish doesn’t become watery. Toss the pasta thoroughly and allow to finish cooking a minute or two to absorb the flavor of the sauce.
|~ This is the pasta in a serving platter. The sauce clung to the noodles very well and was a lot greener than this picture shows. ~|
This is very easy to make and essentially is a four ingredient dish. The key is to drizzle the liquid into the pea puree slowly. It was the first time I replicated this and it was trial and error but it came out very well. The chef’s plate….
This dish was a hit – even among the kids who don’t count peas among their favorite vegetables. The prosciutto, and I suspect in Castellina they really used Guanciale which probably contributes to the difference, needs some improvement but my wife gave this a hearty thumbs up, albeit with the caveat that it wasn’t quite as good as in Italy.
July 23, 2014