September 14, 2020
It was the middle of the week. I didn't know what the heck to make for dinner and was feeling pretty uninspired. I briefly thought of one of my go to pasta dishes, penne with peas and onion. I looked around the kitchen, in the fridge, in the freezer. Then, there on the counter I noticed some cherry tomatoes and serrano peppers my neighbor had given me from her garden. I felt the bubbles of excitement and creativey start to form.
The pieces came together. I mean, who doesn't love a meal that can be thrown together in minutes with items you already have on hand? A meal that is absolutely delicious and simple, without fancy or expensive ingredients that takes little to no planning? A meal that makes your husband eat two helpings with "oooohs" and "aaaaahs" in between bites?
The peas and tomato lend a subtle sweetness. Then there is a touch of heat from the serrano peppers and the rich, salty, umami of the Parmigiano cheese. I have no big story to tell. This is just really good, easy, home cookin'. Here is the recipe. I hope you make it and enjoy it as much as we did.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 medium sweet/yellow onion, chopped or grated (see method)
2 serrano peppers, chopped finely
1 pint of ripe, cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/2 bag of frozen peas (8 ounces)
1/2 cup chicken/vegetable broth
1 pound penne, or other short pasta of your choice
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
large handful of fresh basil (I just tear by hand)
red pepper flakes *optional
salt to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add enough salt so that it tastes like the sea. Taste it and add more salt if needed.
Before going any further, I want to share a method for chopping onion which is, not chopping the onion. Instead, chop it in half at the root ends, peel, and grate the onion on the large holes of a box grater. The result is beautifully thin flakes of onion that almost melt away into the hot oil. I think I stole this from Ina, who probably stole it from someone else.
In a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the pasta, (you will be finishing everything off in this same pan) add the olive oil, onion, peppers, and tomatoes. Cook over medium heat until the onion becomes translucent and the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices, about 5 minutes.
Add the peas and the chicken broth and cook another few minutes, letting the broth reduce down a bit. If you cook the peas too long they will turn an unattractive shade of grey/green, just an FYI. They will still taste good! Season with salt and red pepper flakes if desired. Turn off the heat.
I like to use a short, tubular pasta shape like penne or rigatoni because those little peas that tend to scurry away from your fork unless you pierce them just right, will get caught up in those tubes and nooks and crannies. Cook the pasta a couple of minutes less than the package directions suggest because you will finish cooking the pasta in the pea sauce.
Before draining the pasta, set aside about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of the pasta water. This liquid is full of starches that will help create a flavorful sauce that had some body and clings to the pasta, rather than just slides off into the pan.
Drain the pasta, add to the sauté pan, and turn the heat back on to medium. Toss the pasta well and add some of the pasta cooking water. The pasta will absorb that liquid as it cooks, so continue adding water until the pasta is al dente and you have created a sauce! At this point, you can remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese and basil. Toss, taste, and add more seasoning if need be. Dish it up and drizzle with some olive oil right before serving.