Pasta . peas . lemon and Parmigiano

This is a short story about a quick one-bowl lunch or supper, made with the greens of the season. 

Making a good meal with fresh ingredients doesn’t have to take forever. In fact in Italy as I know it, the making of a pasta can be defined as real fast food.  In my opinion the most enjoyable pranzo pastas, focus on a seasonal vegetable, combined with a fresh powdery grating of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Make this bowl of goodness to celebrate the joy of a new season, that goes by the poetic name primavera in Italian, which of course translates to spring. 

Let me preface this recipe with an important footnote. Peas are normally paired with a short pasta like pennette, tubetti, orecchiette, and even broken spaghetti in Italy. This is because short pasta shapes “catch” and hold the peas together, all of which makes perfect sense. Here, I have chosen a ribbon-like tagliolini pasta, even though it does mean I am breaking with the logic of tradition. Your peas will definitely fall in your plate when twisting the pasta around your fork, but that’s part of the fun of it I think. 

Ingredients . for 2 as a main course

  • 200 grams tagliolini egg pasta 
  • or 
  • 200 grams angel hair or capellini pasta 
  • 200 grams fresh peas . shelled . 
  • or 
  • 200 grams frozen peas 
  • 2 organic lemons 
  • 75-100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1500 ml water 
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt for the pasta water 
  • 75-100 grams Parmigiano Reggiano cheese 
  • 1 bunch of fresh greens . approximately 75 grams in weight
  • like turnip greens . winter purslane . or arugula 
  • sea salt flakes 
  • a pinch of black pepper . preferably whole pepper corns 

Fill a large pan that will give the pasta space to cook, with 1500 ml water and put it on low heat on the stove. Meanwhile, prepare all the necessary ingredients as follows. 

Scrub the lemons with a brush under warm running water. Grate the peel of the lemons with a zester catching only the bright exterior of the lemon into thin curls in a small bowl. If you don’t have a citrus zester, use the fine side of a cheese grater or a microplane. Otherwise, use a paring knife to cut away the bright yellow skin of the lemon. Whatever tool you use, make sure you only grate the outer skin of the lemon as the white pith underneath the skin is unpleasantly bitter. Cut the lemons in half. Squeeze the juice in a small mixing bowl and set it aside. Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on the fine side of a cheese grater or Microplane and set it aside in a small mixing bowl as well. 

If you are using fresh peas, shell them and save the pods, as they will be used to flavor the pasta water! Wash both the peas as well as the pods in cold water. Then save them separately in two bowls. If you are using frozen peas, measure them and put them in a bowl, so they can come to room temperature. Wash and dry the greens of your choice, whether arugula, turnip greens, winter purslane or even  spinach. Shake the greens dry in a colander, then wrap them in a clean tea towel.

Make a lemon-olive oil dressing by putting a generous pinch of sea salt flakes in a bowl. Add 3/4 of the fresh lemon juice and one teaspoon of lemon zest.  Whisk in 75 ml extra virgin olive oil. Keep stirring until the two ingredients are well incorporated. Taste the dressing. It should be lightly salty and decidedly tart.  Crush black peppercorns with a pestle and mortar and place all the pasta ingredients within hands reach. Last but not least, set the table ! Once the pasta is done, it should be served immediately. 

Bring the pasta water to a rolling boil. Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt (don’t worry you won’t be consuming all this salt, it just flavors the pasta). Blanch the empty pea pods two minutes in the boiling water, then remove them with a fine-meshed seive. Add the green peas to the boiling pea-pod infused broth, followed by the tagliolini. Cook both ingredients in the same pan “al dente” in about 2-3 minutes (Check the timing on your package. If you are using dried pasta without egg, the cooking time might be longer). Meanwhile, arrange the raw greens in a large serving bowl. Drain the pasta in a colander, saving a 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water — this is the magic ingredient to marrying pasta with it’s sauce.  

Return the drained tagliolini as quickly as possible to the empty pan you cooked it in (which will still have retained some heat from the cooking process). Toss the pasta and peas with the lemon and olive oil dressing on the stove. Add a few spoons of pasta water, if it is looking a bit dry. Taste the pasta, and  if needed, add some extra lemon juice, olive oil or black pepper. The pasta is almost ready to eat!

Spoon the pasta on top of the raw greens in the serving bowl. Add the grated Parmigiano,  then toss the ingredients casually with two wooden spoons. Bring the bowl to the table  and enjoy! 

Suggested Combinations

This pasta is complete as is. I like to add a small bowl of lemon zest, black pepper and grated Parmigiano to the table so everyone can add a personal touch.  For a luxurious supper, add a few wedges of fresh, lightly-aged goat’s cheese or Robiola to the pasta, as you can see in the photo above. 

If you would rather prepare this pasta dairy free, simply replace the Parmigiano with a generous amount handful of crushed pistachios. 


If you have lemon zest left over, make some lemon-scented flour. 

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