A mountain of sugar snap peas greeted visitors to the Union Square Farmer’s Market on Friday. I was there because on Friday night I was hosting a screening of “Showgirls,” a movie that Craig delights in as “sublimely disastrous.” Browsing around the market, I was trying to piece together a meal concept and, aware that it was spring, I purchased two bunches of asparagus and then, at the pile of sugar snap peas, I went a little crazy and bought two pounds of them! And would you believe, all two pounds were gone and consumed by Friday night.
Sugar snap peas are terrific raw; in fact, I snacked on them the whole way home. They are also terrific sauteed in a little butter and sprinkled with sea salt.
But I wanted to do something more with them. I flipped through my giant shelf of cookbooks, and came across a recipe in Chez Panisse’s Pasta & Pizza cookbook for a pasta with just the peas from the sugar snap pea pods.
The best part of sugar snap peas, though, at least in my opinion, is the crunch of the pod as you bite into the interior exposing the peas. I decided to adapt this pasta to my own desire to keep the pods intact. And, would you believe it, the pasta I created was an undeniable success. “This is amazing,” said Patty, one of our “Showgirls” guests. “Adam, this is so good,” said Lauren, another “Showgirls” guest. Here’s how I did it…
First, you’ve gotta clean, peel and cut the snap peas. To do that, rinse them under water (duh) and then pull one end of the pea pod and drag across until you’ve got the string. It’ll make sense once you start doing it. Do that to all the pods and then cut all the pods in half on a diagonal.
Now then, I bought ziti for this so bring a big pot of water to a boil. That’ll take a while, especially if it’s a big pot.
Take a head of garlic, and separate out six cloves, smash them, remove the skin. Take pancetta–a big piece–and cut it into cubes. Also, you’ll need some sage. And get some chicken stock heated in a pot (about 1 cup). (If you make your own, you should have some in the freezer.)
Ok, now the fun part. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven (or a skillet, if you’d prefer). Add the garlic, the pancetta, and the sage:
It’s a very delicate process, but you’ve gotta cook this long enough for both the garlic to turn golden (without burning!) and for the pancetta to release its fat and cook through. All in all, it took about 15 minutes, but I modulated the heat constantly, wanting a sizzle but not a crackle. 15 minutes later, the apartment smelled incredible.
Here’s where you spring into action: add salt to the boiling pot of water and then add the box of ziti. Stir it around.
Add the sugar snap peas to the pot with the garlic and pancetta (I had a big bunch of them, I’d say 3 cups?) and stir around. Add salt and pepper and some red chile flakes. Now add the chicken stock. It should just cover the peas. Bring to a boil and stir it all around.
Ideally, the pasta will be done just as the chicken stock’s reduced and the peas are cooked through. You want the pasta to be super al dente because here you remove it with a spider and add it to the pot with the stock, the garlic, and the peas to finish cooking.
Ah, now taste. Amazing!
Actually, it just tastes ok. It needs some fixing: (see How To Make Bland Pasta Better). I added more salt, more pepper; then I added parmesan cheese–about 1 cup; I added more olive oil, to bring out the flavor, and finally, in a stroke, I think, perhaps, of genius–I added a big dollop of the ricotta I made in the previous post!
Ya, I know that’s weird, to add whipped ricotta to a pasta but somehow it brought it all together. Look:
It may not look like much, but it brought the house down. It does for pasta what Elizabeth Berkeley certainly doesn’t do for acting; this pasta is as good as Elizabeth Berkely is bad. (And how wonderful is that scene where she throws french fries for no reason? Or where she and Gina Gershon talk about eating dog food?)
Make sure to head to the farmer’s market this spring and buy some sugar snap peas. They’re the best.