Tapping an ancient grain for a modern meal
If you’re looking for a quick, easy and healthy dinner, farro pasta with peas and pancetta is the dish for you. It’s neither tomato-y nor cheesy, but rather light and green — a celebration of herby sweetness that is just what you want during these lengthening spring days.
Pasta with peas is a classic combination, with many variations, some brothy and some creamy. A salty element — usually pancetta, guanciale, prosciutto — is often involved.
This particular pasta is dressed with cooked fresh green peas (snow, sugar-snap and garden), scallions, sage, parsley, mint and lemon, some crumbled ricotta salata and a little pancetta. (For a vegetarian version, you can use roughly chopped olives instead.) It can be made in about the same amount of time as some other speedy pastas: Once the peas are prepared, it’s ready faster than you can say cacio e pepe.
Using frozen peas, it will be done even quicker, but if possible, take the time to find fresh peas. At the store or farmstand, look for garden peas — often called English peas — sold in the pod and ready to shuck. A pound of pods will yield about 1 1/2 cups of shucked peas. Choose pods that are not fat and overfilled; they should have some give when you squeeze them, so you know the peas inside are small and tender. For sugar-snap peas, select specimens that are smooth, shiny and unblemished — the flatter, the better. Snow peas must seem recently picked, firm and crisp.
To accompany the verdant peas, I recommend pasta made from farro, an ancient (as in millenna-old) grain at the forefront of the history of wheat. Though similar to modern wheat, farro is higher in protein and other nutrients and is sometimes tolerated by diners with wheat allergies.
A bit confusingly, when Italians use the word farro, they may be referring to one of three ancient-wheat relatives: einkorn, emmer or spelt. Though whole-grain farro may be better known for its use in soups and salads or as an alternative to rice, when it is milled into flour, it makes a beautiful tawny-brown, nutty-tasting pasta. Cooked properly, it retains a pleasant chewiness.
It is a lovely contrast to behold and savour: earthy, rustic pasta mingling with beautiful, herb-perfumed sweet peas. But if that is unavailable to you, wholewheat or buckwheat noodles are quite pea-friendly, too.