Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creamy Pasta with Peas and Turkey Bacon

The following bit of deliciousness is my take on traditional Pasta with Ham, Peas, and Cream. If you are fortunate to be in Italy, you may find it listed as Alla Medici on many a great menu. Nigella gives you the proportions and preparation instructions so you can toss together that classic version of this dish to perfection here.

I am not a classicist though and simply cannot leave a recipe alone. First, there must be garlic... I know, the overuse of garlic is such an American thing, but hey, I'm an American so garlic there will be! Second, there must be onions because well, everything must have onions...and more cheese because more cheese makes everything better. Third, I want the recipe to retain its quick to make on a weeknight awesomeness which means that I do not want to add any extra steps (like chopping, smooshing, and sauteing garlic and onions). Finally, I want to reduce the sodium and fat a bit (since I just ramped it up with the cheese), and so will replace the ham with low sodium organic turkey bacon and replace some of the cream with milk.

So, with apologies to Nigella for mangling her recipe, I'd like to offer you my version of Creamy Pasta with Peas and Turkey Bacon. 

The things I gathered to make this beautiful dish with a note about what NOT to gather:

1 pound penne pasta
1 pound frozen peas, thawed
1/2 small onion, chopped or 1 t granulated onion*
1 cup milk (I used skim and it worked!)
3/4 cup cream
11 oz package of low sodium organic turkey bacon, cut into chunks
2 t granulated garlic *add granulated onion with garlic
1/4 t fresh cracked black pepper (or to taste)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggianno

Please don't add salt. The cheese provides all the sodium needed. Taste it first before you salt, ok?

Before all else:

First, measure and prep all your ingredients, set out a large pasta pot and a large colander. In fact, go ahead and set the table. It makes the cookery go so smoothly when you prep first and this is a very fast to make meal. I like to use the little acrylic custard bowls to hold things like seasonings but you use whatever you have.

Now that you are ready, here is the how to of the cookery with admonishments as to the great error of leaving the room at certain times:

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil on your stove - you can salt the water or not as you prefer. Add the pasta, return to a boil, and cook per the package directions. About five minutes before the pasta is done dump in the peas and onion so they can merrily cook right along with the pasta. When the pasta is perfectly al dente, dump the entire thing into a colander and allow to drain while you make the sauce.

Now, I warned you that there would be a time where your presence in the kitchen was mandatory. The next step is that time. You do not want the beautiful sauce to curdle or burn on you, so stay firmly planted near the stove from now on. Trust me, this is experience talking here.

Return the pot to the stove top with the temperature set to not quite medium. Add the milk, cream, bacon, garlic and onion powders, and black pepper to the pot on the stove. Stir while it warms. Once the sauce is warm, add the Parmigiano Reggiano and stir until the cheese melts a bit - just a couple minutes will do. The cheese provides a thickening assist to the cream which would do a nice thickening on its own if it were not for the milk. Yes, for those of you not used to cooking with cream, it does in fact thicken as it simmers, if you use milk you may need more cheese. Milk though, curdles instead of thickening and burns so watch it like a hawk.

Add the peas, onion, and pasta to the creamy mixture and stir for another minute or two while the entire thing heats to serving temperature on lovely plates of a contrasting color.

Make sure the hand grater is on the table for those that think even more cheese is perfect. A nice leaf salad with a few sweet red pepper strips sitting on top is the most mindfully perfect accompaniment.

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