Sunday, April 6, 2014

Orecchiette with Peas and Buttermilk-Parmesan Sauce

This is emphatically not an Italian dish. It's clearly a riff on "Alfredo Sauce", which while invented in Rome and which was itself a riff on fettuccine alla Romana, was definitely made for Americans. Rumor has it that its popularity owes itself to the Hollywood duo of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

The substitution of cream by buttermilk makes sense. For one, you get a much stronger tangy lactic flavor. Secondly, you get a strong umami taste. It's also lighter. The emulsification works the same way as in the original.

The peas come from another classic Italian dish - pasta with peas, ham and cream. Similar idea just with fresh peas. Fancier versions substitute the ham with prosciutto.

The combination works magic and it requires a light hand. The peas definitely need to be fresh. Frozen is not going to cut it. It's also a dish where you need to make the sauce quickly while you are making the pasta at the last minute and toss it all together.

The reason to use orecchiette is to cradle the peas while holding on to the sauce. Substitute with conchiglie (shells) in the same logical vein.

Even with questionable authenticity, this dish is definitely both simple and magical.


(serves 2 generously)

2 cups conchiglie
1 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano
black pepper
1/3 cup chopped parsley


Bring the heavily-salted pasta water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook till al dente. Roughly 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat up the butter in a pan at medium-low heat. When melted add the peas and let the sautée for a bit. Add the buttermilk and let it warm up and boil at the lowest possible heat. Add the parmesan and whisk the sauce.

Add the drained pasta, black pepper and parsley and toss thoroughly.


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