Pod and pinch


I nearly postponed lunch last Sunday. I’d forgotten something that put the kibosh on the pottering, cooking and mild house straightening I had planned for the morning before the lunch after. A well-meaning friend (with a kitchen the size of my flat and a similarly sized ability to rustle up a lunch for twelve) suggested I made something in advance and set the dining table the night before. I nodded politely and didn’t remind her I can barely keep up with basic never mind advanced at the moment, and that I only have one table, which also functions as my desk. As I said, I nearly postponed lunch last Sunday. Then I didn’t. For which I’m glad, as it turned out to be a nice lunch.

I’d barely taken my coat off when the first guest arrived. Late and ill-prepared I should have been flustered. Come to think of it I was. But then she opened a well-chilled bottle and poured me some dark inky-red wine that fizzed and frothed as it settled in my glass. Good Lambrusco I’ve discovered, is not an oxymoron. It was crisp, bone dry and tasted of bitter cherries, blackberries and burdock, a delicious way to lift my tardy spirits. Then while I trimmed artichokes, Cameron rolled up her sleeves and started podding peas.


It had been a while since I’d had kitchen company, cooking having been a pretty solitary pursuit lately. I was reminded how much – when I let it happen –  I love the chatter and the convivial, consuming bustle of shared kitchen enterprise. I don’t know Cameron well, but we were soon comfortable in companionable activity. It helped that she is a chef from San Francisco, capable and laid back in equal measure, a pretty perfect kitchen companion. As was the Lambrusco.

Another friend arrived and joined the podding while I sautéed curls of spring onion and fat wedges of artichoke for a spring vegetable stew. I had done a smidgen of early morning preparation, which meant the potatoes only needed boiling and the mayonnaise stirring. I abandoned plans for chickpea fritters, then while the podders progressed from peas to fave and the sun turned it’s shining up a notch, I made a fennel and orange salad (again.)

Dan and Fran arrived with more wine and salami. Kitchen mess was managed, the table set and then we ate – in no particular order – vignarola piled on bruschetta with ricotta di pecora, salami, waxy new potatoes with home-made mayonnaise, fennel and orange salad with more Lariano bread. To finish, Dan had made biscuits, superlative chocolate ones sandwiched together with dark chocolate granache. We all drank rather too much wine. It all felt comfortably chaotic, ad hoc and lovely.


None of which has anything to do with today’s recipe! Well except the peas, which I podded alone and observed it is a task best done in company while drinking Lambrusco. The peas I podded and then cooked in much the same way as the Vignarola, the stew of spring vegetables I wrote about last week and made for the nearly postponed lunch. That is a gentle saute with some spring onion in extra virgin olive oil. Then – with the help of a glass of wine (what and who isn’t helped by a glass of wine? ) part braise /part steamy simmer which means the vegetables cook in their own juices and all the flavors: sweet and savory, grassy and buttery are kept closely.

I removed half the braised peas from the pan, reduced them to a paste with the immersion blender before returning them to rest of the peas and stirring until I had a soft, textured cream the colour of which seemed a fitting hue for a boat an owl and a pussy cat might set sail in. A generous spoonful of ricotta, a pinch of coarse salt and three grinds of black pepper and lunch was well underway.


As I suspected, pea and ricotta cream: a gentle muddle of sweet grassy peas, savory onion and quivering ricotta is good on toast rubbed with garlic and streaked with olive oil. A pretty perfect spring antipasti in fact, especially on Tuesday while you are making farfalle pasta.

You can of course use dried farfalle (farfalle means butterflies which obviously refers to the shape). Or you could make them. Which really isn’t difficult! Believe me, I managed and although enthusiastic I’m hardly the most skilled pasta maker. Standard pasta dough, kneaded prudently and rolled thinly – notes below. Then the particularly nice bit: you cut the pasta into smallish squares – I did this by hand which meant rather idiosyncratic squares – and then you pinch.


Once your pasta is pinched, you just need to cook it in large pan of water that is boiling and rolling around like a tempestuous sea. The water should taste like the sea too, so salt it generously. Fresh egg pasta cooks relatively quickly, keep tasting. Once the pasta is cooked but still slightly al-dente (literally translated this means to the tooth and refers to the fact the pasta still has bite) use a slotted spoon to lift your butterflies onto the pea and ricotta sauce. Turn the pasta in the sauce making sure each pinched piece is coated. Divide the pasta between two bowls and finish with a spoonful of ricotta.

Short of eating them straight from their pods while walking back from the market along the Tevere river in the sunshine, this is one of nicest ways to eat tender spring peas. As nice as vignarola, as nice even – and I can’t really believe I am saying this – as the gloriously good Venetian pea and rice soup you eat with a fork – risi e bisi. Peas and butterflies, pod and pinch.


Farfalle con piselli e ricotta  Farfalle pasta with peas and ricotta cheese

serves 2

  • 200 g semolina or plain flour suitable for pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • salt
  • 1 kg peas in their pods
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large or 4 small spring onions
  • a  small glass of dry white wine
  • 200 g ricotta (ideally sheep’s milk ricotta) plus more for serving
  • freshly ground black pepper.

Make the pasta.

Make a mound of flour on the work surface and scoop a deep hollow in the center. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Break the eggs into the hollow and then using your fingers beak the yolks and start working the egg into the flour. Bring the dough together until you have a smoothly integrated mixture. Knead the dough for a full eight minutes by which time it should be smooth and soft as putty.

Cut the ball of pasta into 6 pieces (the general rule is the number of pieces should be 3 times the number of eggs. So 2 eggs = 6 pieces). Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Set the pasta machine to the widest setting. Flatten one of the pieces of dough by pummeling it with your hands and then run it through the machine. Fold the pasta as you would an envelope by bringing the two ends over each other and run it through the machine again. Repeat with the other 5 pieces. Close the gap in the rollers down by one notch and run the pasta pieces through one by one. Continue thinning the pieces progressively closing down the notches one by one until the pasta is as thin as you want it.

Using a sharp knife or pasta cutter, cut the pasta into 1 1/2″ by 1 1/2″ squares and pinch (hard) in middle of the square, squeezing the top and bottom together so you have a butterfly / bow tie.

Make the sauce

Pod the peas. Peel and finely slice the spring onion. Warm the olive oil  heavy bottomed saute pan or enamelled cast iron pot. Saute the sliced onion over a medium heat until it is soft and translucent. Add the peas, stir, add the wine and then let the peas cook for a few minutes or until they are tender. Older, larger peas will take longer.

Remove half the pea mixture, puree with an immersion blender and return to the pan. Season the mixture generously with salt and black pepper. Add the ricotta and stir until you have a pale, textured cream.

Cook the farfalle in well-salted fast boiling water. It will take about 6 minutes. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to lift the pasta from the water and onto the sauce. Stir, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if the sauce seems a little stiff.

Serve immediately with another spoonful of ricotta on top and freshly grated parmesan for those wish.



Filed under pasta and rice, peas, ricotta, spring recipes, vegetables

44 responses to “Pod and pinch

  1. I love a good chilled and fizzy lambrusco! lovely post as usual.

  2. sarah

    Favourite post! Sorry! (You may prefer others)!

  3. absolutely lovely! i have colander envy right now 🙂

  4. Kasia

    Very inspiring.
    May I ask you, and I feel rather ignorant asking you this as I am rather “new” to cooking, what is the difference between sheep’s ricotta and goat’s or cow’s? Is it also a different texture?
    I will have to go to my local cheese store and do some taste testing!

    • rachel

      It is a very good question. Sheep’s milk ricotta has a distinctive flavor, it is sharper and has (rather unsurprisingly) a more sheepish taste. It is also more granular. I love it and prefer it to cows. Goats ricotta (like goats milk) is even sharper and more particular – I think that would work too but might dominate. Rx

  5. Oh how I miss good Lambrusco, sounds like a perfect lunch to me.

    • rachel

      It was a nice lunch. i think the fact it was unexpected and a joint enterprise made it even tastier. Lambrusco (the good stuff, dry as a bone and crisp )is a new favorite tipple.

  6. sara

    Sounds lovely. I’ve just eaten a very spartan meal of spaghetti with Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce and some roasted vegetables on the side. I will try peas + ricotta this weekend.

  7. Eha

    . . . and in the end a lot of fun was indeed had . . . 🙂 !

  8. Jenny

    As usual, your ingredients match exactly what’s left in my fridge! Inspired again.

  9. This looks so beautiful and reminds me that simple is always more elegant than fancy. I had pasta e fagioli and a crisp, tart green salad with a smooth Dolcetto D’alba last night, and it turned out to be my favorite meal of the week.

    I too discovered the joys of really good Lambrusco when someone showed up for dinner with a bottle of the delicious stuff in each hand. It was lip-smacking good.

    Pass one of those biscuits over, please.

    • rachel

      Pasta e fagioli, green salad and a glass of nice red sounds lie my sort of supper and yes I agree, it is the simple things. I am less and less interested in fancy complicated food.
      I am planning to make dan’s biscuits! When I do, come round and we will chatter over biscuits and tea (or Lambrusco)

  10. It’s always fun to cook with other people and a decent bottle of red wine (which helps smooth any bumps in the road to culinary compatibility). All of the peas, on toast or with farfalle (now – I’ll have to make), sound exquisite. Owl and the pussycat indeed. Is there anything that screams SPRING more loudly than the color of peas? Ken

    P.S. I remember when Lambrusco was execrable. It seems to be enjoyed a metamorphosis as winemakers take the grape more seriously. Particularly good for glugging in the kitchen.

    • rachel

      I had some terrible experiences with Lambrusco. It fact I swore never to drink it again. This was a revelation, dry as a bone and yes, a perfect kitchen tipple for a tardy cook.
      Pea are spring.

  11. Oh, lovely. I adore the flavor of fresh peas but often find their texture too mealy and tough. Blending them into silky submission is the perfect compromise. Now… where can I find some of this excellent Lambrusco? 🙂

  12. MY GOD Rach, I thought I was following your blog already but no *facepalm*. This is making me desirious of everything pea and cheese and pasta. I’ll have to film you sometime just so I remember. Lets do it? Magic woman you are.

  13. How nice to see your blog – just got back from Rome and had that pea-shelling experience. Your pasta looks absolutely perfect.

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  15. I love this kind of gathering. Thanks for sharing it. Shelling peas is a very good way to bring spirits together.

    • rachel

      It is, I am not sure why I don’t shell peas and cook with others more often. Having you here is so so nice, you are one of the three blogs (the three writers) that started all this five years ago. And I cannot wait to come to Plum – next Spring I hope.

  16. Believe it or not, it is hard to find a good Lambrusco here. The ricotta, the peas and the farfalle look divine.

    • rachel

      I believe you, it is hard in Italy too, and when you do it is usually just awful, sweet, cloying (not quite as bad as in the Uk, where it is a joke wine). Young wine makers are making interesting Lambrusco now. I think the hefty dose of spring made the pasta even nicer Rx

  17. I love the way you pod and muddle. It inspires. Not too long now…

    • rachel

      It is warm, really warm today. Of course that could change but not that drastically. You are coming at the nicest time. To E mail for more planning …

  18. This is one of my favorite recipes to cross my blogging path recently. So fresh. The lovely homemade pasta which encourages me to give it a try very soon with the fresh green sauce. Fantastic!

    • rachel

      That is nice to hear. It is a nice recipe, singing spring spring spring and really I couldn’t believe how easy the pasta was, after rolling (which my machine does) it was all a pinch.

  19. Hi Rach, the color of the young green peas mashed with creamy ricotta is just a knock-out. it speaks Spring loud and fresh. beautiful pinched butterflies, too. podding and cooking with friends is one of life’s pleasures-as is a good Lambrusco, I suspect–but have never tasted!

    • rachel

      Maybe we can have some when you come! If only I was nearer, then I could bring some pea/ricotta muddle to a pot luck. Counting Down x

  20. This sounds heavenly! I’ve long had a fear of making pasta, for no very good reason (ok, a couple of traumatic experiences in culinary school), but this makes me want to try my hand at it again.

    Glad to have found your blog via Ann’s Tuesday Dinner!

    • rachel

      So glad to have you here. It took me a while to get into the swing of making pasta but now I am fervent maker, an amateur but fervent maker none the less. I am pasta machine dependant though. R

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  23. Looks wonderful! I’m not sure if I would make it to the pasta dish….I think I would eat the entire mixture slabbed over bread! I must say, I really love your writing!

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