Menu: Homemade Pasta with Peas, Prosciutto and Mint; Homemade Beet Ice Cream with Orange Zest, Mascarpone and Poppy Seeds
When it comes to partnerships I am fascinated by the intuitive and unspoken ways in which the division of labor occurs. In our relationship I have almost always been the one who has been responsible for preparing our meals, which has less to do with traditional gender roles and more to do with my interest in cooking and – I’ll be honest – an unremitting need for control. Over the years Maikael and I have learned that, while we make good life partners, we don’t make very good companions in the kitchen. I tend to be bossy and move with lightning-quick speed whereas Maikael is meticulous and in no particular rush (as I mentioned a few weeks ago, these qualities make him an excellent bread baker, an area in which I am a disaster). In my haste to get a meal on the table I have been known to snatch knives out of Maikael’s hands and begin chopping quicker, or commandeer a recipe, and as a result our implicit rule has become that only one of us work in the kitchen at a time.
Our weekly dinner fell through the cracks this week. Maikael left for Italy on business and I was madly preparing myself to meet him at the end of his trip so that we can enjoy a two-week holiday together while my mother-in-law, who arrived from Mexico just before Maikael left, watches Abra. It is a logistical nightmare, coordinating the schedules of three adults and a toddler, and making a home-cooked meal had fallen squarely at the bottom of the list. As I was racing around the kitchen one evening in his absence, hastily composing an impromptu meal, I was reminded of a lovely dinner we prepared together last month. It was a rare time in recent years that we called a “truce” and decided to make a meal side by side.
We made a dish that, in our shorthand, we simply call “pea pasta.” In our fourteen years together it’s a dinner we’ve made hundreds of times, in just as many configurations; although we’ve never cooked it together it’s one that either of us could prepare by heart. Usually I make this dish with fresh, good-quality pasta from the market, but lately I’ve been experimenting with homemade pasta, which is labor intensive but easy and so worth the effort. Maikael had never made homemade pasta before but I tried my hardest to provide only minimal guidance, resisting my urge to jump in and take over when a sheet of golden dough got stuck in the machine, yielding ragged zigzags rather than silky shoe strings. Dinner took a long time to prepare but for once we were in no particular rush, talking our way through our week from our respective quadrants of the kitchen – Maikael tending to the dough while I managed the sauce – as Abra wandered around underfoot. I could feel us growing a little closer as we worked.
When the dish was finally on the table it tasted better than usual. Maybe it was the homemade pasta, but I think it had something to do with our hands each having played a part in its successful execution. What a shame, I thought, that this is such a rare occurrence. Since Abra’s birth the kitchen has become my refuge, a place where I can scratch out a bit of peace and quiet amongst the familiar pots and pans. While I prepare an early Sunday dinner Maikael often corrals Abra as I cook, The Lawrence Welk Show humming in the background (she loves the tap dancing). But our life often feels like a coordinated exercise in shuttling Abra back and forth between us so that we can individually “get something done,” the result of which is a life lived in different corners. Although the help is useful and the solitary time is welcome, the whole point of the Sunday dinner was to find connection in the midst of our hectic lives. Making dinner together reminded me that there is joy not just in eating together but in cooking together, that bonds can be forged from the humblest of circumstances. Perhaps if I could learn to relinquish some control in the kitchen we could etch deeper paths outside of it.
Elizabeth Grant Thomas writes regularly for Edible Santa Fe and at her site elizabethgrantthomas.com. She can be found here every other Tuesday as she chronicles her family’s journey “back to the table.”
Adapted from Janet Fletcher’s Pasta Harvest
This is the perfect time of year to make this dish, as English peas are just arriving in the markets. To make this dish out of season, though, frozen petite peas taste good, too. If you are a vegetarian you can easily omit the prosciutto and substitute vegetable stock; this is a flexible dish. For years I made this with good-quality, store-bought pasta (I love the local Pasta Divina brand), which is ideal for a weeknight meal, but the inclusion of homemade pasta is sublime when you have the time. The sauce comes together very quickly, so if using homemade pasta start that part of the process first.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 large bunches of scallions, about 10 stems, thinly sliced, white and pale green parts only
2 ½ cups freshly-shelled English peas or frozen petite peas
½ – ¾ cup chicken stock
12-16 ounces fresh linguini or fettuccini (use a good-quality store-bought brand, such as Pasta Divina, or your favorite homemade recipe)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
3 ounces prosciutto di Parma, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly-grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add green onions and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add peas and stock.
- Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cook until peas are tender, 6-8 minutes for fresh peas and 4-5 minutes for frozen peas. If pans dries out too quickly add up to a ¼ cup more stock. There should some liquid left in the pan at the end of simmering to nicely coat the pasta, but not so much that it’s “soupy.”
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water salted with 1 tablespoon of salt until al dente, about 3 minutes for fresh pasta.
- After adding pasta to the water stir in the mint, prosciutto and salt and pepper (to taste) into the pea mixture.
- Drain pasta and transfer to the pea mixture with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Serve immediately and garnish with a sprinkling of freshly-grated parmesan cheese (optional).