Rather like peas.

Rather like fresh pea and asparagus season, my stay back here at via Mastro Giorgio 81 will be brief. In both cases: green spring vegetables and Rachel, brevity is best. Best for the vegetables because in a world where production and marketing of food has gone mad, at a time when we’re bamboozled by infinite year-round choice, seasonal food is sanity, a joy to be anticipated, relished and then missed. Until next year that is. Seasonal peas in their pods and asparagus are so nice because they’re just that, seasonal. Brevity is best for me because however important it was to come back; to sort through things, talk, divide and try to forge a new kind of relationship with Vincenzo, however reassuring it feels to be back here in a house I love, I must, we both must, move on.

I don’t intend to move on very far though, in a physical sense that is. I’ve decided to look for a new place here in Testaccio, the quarter of Rome I know and love, the wedge-of parmesan-shaped rione XX tucked between the Tevere river, Aventine hill and the southern most section of the Aurelian wall, the quarter I wandered into over 6 years ago with about 20 words of Italian, one telephone number and no fixed plans. Actually Vincenzo and I have decided together that I’ll stay here in Testaccio, agreeing that it’s big enough for the both of us. We’ve discussed the possibility of a John Wayne sized showdown at some point, possibly in the market, weapons: a selection of underripe and overripe fruit and veg, but have concluded this risk is worthwhile. Vincenzo is stupendous.

So let’s get down to business. I have, hardly surprisingly, been extremely happy and over excited – irritatingly so was one observation –  to be back living next to Testaccio market. After a very emotional reunion with my fruttivendoli Vincenzo and Rita, catching-up of the vegetable kind was embarked upon. I settled back into the kitchen with the always reliable courgette/zucchini carbonara and large pan of spring minestrone, before turning my attention to the new arrivals; peas and the first, plump asparagus.

The first kilo of peas was eaten just so on the way back from the market and while cooking the carbonara – straight from the paper bag, peas flicked from pods into my big mouth. Later the same day I went to supper with my friends Cinzia and Ettore and their kids, my favourite students, Antonio and Lucia. Cinzia served a big plate of fresh peas alongside some olives and cheese as an easy communal starter. It was a happy crashing of hands and podding of peas as Cinzia prepared the lamb. I’ll be borrowing this idea. The first bunch of asparagus was steamed until tender and eaten with olive oil, Roscioli bread and pecorino.

The second kilo of peas and second bunch of fat asparagus were destined for pasta, a spring affair, my interpretation of a lunch made for me early last week: farfalle con piselli e asparagi.

It’s all extremely simple. You pod your peas and steam the asparagus until tender but still firm, You could boil the asparagus I suppose, but I always wonder what you lose into the rolling water. You gently saute the podded peas and steamed, sliced asparagus in olive oil before adding a little white wine or water, a good pinch of salt and letting the peas and asparagus bubble away half covered, until tender and just starting to collapse.

Super-al-dente vegetable fans should look away now, for this particular recipe – or idea really – the peas and asparagus are cooked until very soft and just starting to fall apart – you give them a hand by pressing them gently against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Gasp and wince from Super-al-dente vegetable fans. Let me reassure you, you’re not trying to murder the vegetables, nor over-cook them into a murky brown mush (I am a traumatized victim of English school dining rooms in the 70’s remember, I know how bad it can be) you’re just breaking things up a bit, creating a slight creaminess and softness which will coat the pasta and bring things together.

You can add little more olive oil to the peas and asparagus along with a handful of finely chopped parsley or some ripped basil if you like. You should taste and check for salt. You will have a deliciously sweet, tender, oily, green muddle of peas and asparagus . I would happily eat a plate of this just so with a hunk of bread and lump of pecorino Romano.

You cook some Farfalle pasta – the butterfly / bow ties work beautifully here – and add it to the peas and asparagus along with a spoonful of the cloudy pasta cooking water to loosen things up. You could also add a big blob of ricotta at this point – I have plans to do this tomorrow so will update here accordingly. Serve topped with a little heap of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino and a grind of black pepper.

It’s nice to be back at my table with my favourite napkin, the one I borrowed from a restaurant in Trastevere (after a terrible meal I hasten to add! Not that a terrible meal justifies my criminal impulses.) This is my idea of a pretty perfect early spring lunch, well one of them at least, I have many. It’s delicate, fresh, simple. The gentle braising brings out the sweetness and softens the edges of three ingredients that although beautiful together might make for a rather fragmented dish if cooked too quickly, cooking them in this way ensures they come together into a satisfying, nourishing, rounded whole, A very good way to enjoy produce (and a kitchen) that won’t be around for long.

I am looking forward to experimenting around this idea; wild garlic, spring onions, a little finely chopped prosciutto, that big blob of ricotta…

Farfalle con asparagi e piselli

serves 4

  • 1kg fresh peas in pods (which will yield about 300g when podded)
  • bunch of asparagus
  • 60ml/2 floz olive oil
  • 1ooml dry white wine
  • salt
  • some finely chopped parsely or a few ripped basil leaves
  • another 30ml olive oil
  • 450g farfalle pasta
  • freshly grated parmesan/ pecorino

Pod your peas. Cut away the tough woody end of the asparagus – how much you trim will depend on the thickness and variety of asparagus.

Steam / boil asparagus over/ in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 6 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Using a slotted spoon remove the asparagus from the pan and cut into 2″ pieces.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil in preparation for the pasta.

Warm the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the peas and a pinch of salt, stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the asparagus pieces, stir, add the wine and allow the vegetables to bubble away. half covered, for 12 minutes. Stir every now and then and gently press the veg against the sides of the pan with a wooden spoon so they break up gently. Pull the vegetables from the heat and add another glug of olive oil, the finely chopped parsley or basil and stir. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.

Put the pasta in the water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta – reserving a little of the cooking water. Mix the pasta with the peas and asparagus, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen everything. Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino and a good grind of black pepper.
I have been really touched and sustained by your kind comments and messages over the last couple of months. I wish I could steal green and white checked napkins for each and every one of you to say thank you. But I won’t, as I fear that might result in a large fine, expulsion from Italy or prison.
I joke because otherwise I’d go mad. I really just want to say thank you.


Filed under food, pasta and rice, peas, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, vegetables

31 responses to “Rather like peas.

  1. So glad you’re finally back, Rachel. I’ve been running out of new recipes to try out, and hungry for your genuinely sincere writings.

    Welcome back!

  2. 1. xo, xo.
    2. happy to hear from you, amazed by your open heart.
    3. YUM.

  3. Gilly

    so glad you are back, have been checking compulsively for the last few weeks and sending lots of love towards Rome for you every time I saw you hadn’t updated. I hope the worst is behind you xx

  4. asparagus and peas! sigh. the markets here are still looking very sad but it was still light at 7.30pm today so that’s something…

    it was good to see this post pop up Rachel, take care and good luck with the house hunting.

    G xo

  5. Pat McCort

    I am so pleased to read your thoughts on Italy, the produce, the recipes. the little ins and outs of every day living. Please don’t go away again.

  6. laura

    Thank you! LOVE reading your posts. In bocca al lupo and BUON TUTTO for everything.

  7. No nice to see a post from you again and with such a wonderfully fresh dish too.
    🙂 Mandy

  8. Well, I for one look forward to you finding a new favourite place and table. Well done to both of you for being so civilised and I am sure that showdown with overripe veg will never be needed – although I would quite like to be a fly on the wall if it ever did! Peas and asparagus – you lucky girl we have a few months here before that happens and then you will be lucky enough to be able to visit here and have two seasons. I am jealous. K x

  9. TD

    I wandered in here looking for a frittata recipe and was so pleased to read about your new peas and asparagus adventures. You and your “stupendous Vincenzo” are awfully nice people, based on this post at least. 🙂
    I can’t wait to read more about your new place and more Spring produce. Good luck!

  10. Gail

    It’s so nice to hear from you. I have been there (and maybe am still there), and you’re weathering the storm fabulously — I promise.

  11. Oh that is a beautiful lunch. And frankly the idea of it with a blob of beautiful fresh ricotta is just too much. Can’t wait until the peas come into their own here. Probably a good month or so to go (especially since it has been so very cold here).

  12. sweet spring peas and asparagus are just about a week away here, can’t wait!
    sweet, also, to have one more–and perhaps last–glimpse at that infamous brown chair, table, tiled floor, and checked napkin.
    always a pleasure to come to your table–wherever it may be.
    looking forward, rach!!

  13. Sigh. We’re about another month or more away from fresh peas here in Canada, I’m afraid. Making a note to myself to come back and make this then. I doubt the peas and asparagus currently imported from Mexico and California would really do it justice. Or maybe I should and then make it again with fresh local veg and see if my boys notice the difference.

    As always, your posts make me long to return to Rome with my boys. Better start saving now (and start learning a few words of Italian!).

  14. it’s really lovely to see you blogging again, Rachel. and what a beauty you blogged- i have been dreaming of Spring veggies here in snowy Toronto- and your talk of the Testaccio market has really whet my appetite for my trip to Rome this summer to see all my old, darling friends. stay well, Rachel.
    x shayma

  15. Your Farfalle con asparagi e piselli looks so good, Rachel. I’m happy to see you here again. I’ve missed your wit and your beautiful photographs and recipes. Don’t wait too long to return. xx, Denise

  16. Don’t apologize for cooking the peas and asparagus until soft. You did it intentionally. School dinners in the 70s knew no other way, and, your vegetables are still lovely and green rather than grey. I can imagine drizzling in some olive oil, a crackle of black pepper and some maldon, and spreading it on garlic-rubbed bread with, as you say, a hunk of pecorino. A smackerel of deliciousness as an apertif, perhaps. We’re still waiting for our peas to germinate in freezing NYC, but a herald of spring arrive this morning on Paolo’s outfit. It read, “Give peas a chance.”

  17. you had me at “big blob of ricotta”!

  18. Diana

    Looks wonderful! After a rough patch in my own life I have been craving something that speaks of brightness and new growth, your recipe is perfect. I will be making it for dinner tonight, with some garlic shoots and prosciutto thrown into the mix.

    It must sound a bit odd as we don’t know each other, but I am wishing hard that you find the perfect new place. All best.

  19. I love seeing you back in that familiar–although fleeting– space serving up bowls of Spring. I’m looking forward to following that green checkered napkin to wherever you land!

  20. Katie

    Oh I am so excited about this recipie and variation ideas! I LOVE peas. Does anyone LOVE peas? (I like asparagus a lot too.) Anyway, until this post my favorite dressed up pea recipie was in a broth over crispy potatoes with a soft boiled egg on top. (I admit that sometimes instead of cooking my own potatoes I use some of my boys french fries!!) But aside from how delicious this looks to me, my boys love pasta and will eat peas. So in addition to a great new favorite vegetable dish I now have a meal that will not cause complainig, whining and meltdowns at the dinner table!
    So glad to see your posts. I hope spring brings you a fresh new perspective. And happiness!

  21. Meg

    Glad to see you posting again. This looks delicious, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some delicious local peas to try it out myself. Hoping you find a lovely, fantastic new place. Wishing you well, though you don’t know me and I rarely comment.

  22. I have always enjoyed your posts and your love for food. I know how difficult it is to keep on blogging when your world is changing and you are trying to adjust to those changes in your life.
    I’m glad to see you back Rachel.

  23. OH my, this neighborhood, the fresh peas. It’s making me dizzy with excitement. I lived near the Prati market for a while, but I think Testaccio is rather more exciting. Thanks!@

  24. makingromaroma

    Oh Rachel, you have been missed! So glad to see a post. You are in my thoughts.

  25. Mariko

    So glad you’re back! I hope each day is easier than the previous one for you. Perhaps fresh spring (and then summer!) produce will help :).

  26. I just bought my first peas the other day (I’m in Austria) and ate them in an enormous green salad with green beans, avocado, herbs and broccoli – this spring is making me absolutely mad for greens. This pasta looks like a perfect way to keep me (greens freak) and my boyfriend (pasta freak, half Italian) happy ^_^

  27. Okay Rachel, today I’m making a variation on your dish for lunch and I’m psyched that I have asparagus but a wee bit sad at my lack of peas. Will have to use low-salt cheese since I’m on this crazy low blood pressure diet at the end of the pregnancy. It’s really time for the baby to come out so I can have a glass of wine and slab of parmiggiano. Hai gia trovato un appartamento nuovo e fantastico in Testaccio? Spero di si. 🙂

  28. Steve Hallam

    Rachel I just love your blog – I haven’t got round to trying any of the recipes yet(!) but plan to correct that sin very soon with the above recipe. Mainly I just read it because I love your writing: approaching food and life with openness, warmth and love. Your photography also is beautiful. Although it’s been a long time since I saw you last, I feel still connected to you through your posts and I think of you often in probably a very romanticised version of Rome. Sending you lots of love & luck – hoping to do the cinque terre soon so will divert to Rome to say hello. xx

  29. Pingback: Asparagus and pea pasta « The Food Fly

  30. i know this is old material, at this point, but we are just coming on to these two very lovely things (peas + asperge). I dare say this may make our dinner rotation next week, mmmm…

    happy homecoming.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s