Easy peasy

Pasta with peas that kids can make

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy

Af­ter a brief stint as a wait­ress, my sec­ond job in Rome was, pre­dictably, teach­ing English. To be­gin with I worked with actors, most no­tably with Alessio, who was pre­par­ing to au­di­tion for an English mini-se­ries. Tall and broad, Alessio could only get into char­ac­ter while pac­ing or lean­ing, palms flat on the ta­ble, and rock­ing, which seemed at odds with both the scene he was pre­par­ing for, and my small flat. Alessio also caused a stir with my then neigh­bours Olga and Amelia who, recog­nis­ing him from the TV and hav­ing heard his voice across the in­ter­nal court­yard, were al­ways out­side their door, vig­or­ously bash­ing a rug or sweep­ing the step when he left at the end of his les­son.

Af­ter actors, I taught chil­dren. At first I was at a school on Gian­i­colo hill, an oc­ca­sional job with a sub­lime view over Rome’s patch­work of ter­ra­cotta and glint­ing cupo­las. That led to private lessons with three fam­i­lies in par­tic­u­lar, which is where I learned the best way to teach English (to small kids) is to sing, or cook, or both.

Now, I am no Julie Andrews or Mary Pop­pins – and cer­tainly not Julie as Mary – but out of frus­tra­tion that the kids weren’t re­ally learn­ing any­thing, I be­gan singing. Some­times the kids chanted back, some­times they didn’t, but I knew frag­ments were stick­ing. With cook­ing, I learned the ob­vi­ous – a les­son from my own child­hood – that kids like mix­ing flour and wa­ter then pum­melling it into a dough, stir­ring, sep­a­rat­ing eggs, mak­ing pizza, cut­ting bis­cuits, and that when do­ing this they be­come com­pletely im­mersed. The phys­i­cal act re­in­forc­ing the words, the kids would then re­mem­ber bits of the process in English.

A few months ago, I met a for­mer stu­dent in the street, a teenage ver­sion of his seven-year-old self. I asked how he was, and he replied in shy but good English that he was well. He then re­minded me about the day his brother tipped a car­ton of milk down the side of the work­top and about how later, when the care­lessly wiped sur­face smelled bad, they blamed me, but his mum didn’t mind be­cause they had said “milk” and “spilled” in English.

I am not nearly as pa­tient with my own son in the kitchen when he makes a mess, and I wipe away his cre­ativ­ity with my cloth, half cross, half wish­ing I was more Montes­sori. Like most kids he is quickly lured into the process, shov­ing his hands into flour, mak­ing worms of dough, sep­a­rat­ing eggs, laugh­ing at rude veg­eta­bles, of­ten ask­ing why and where, tast­ing, and full of pride, ex­claim­ing: “I made that”.

While he is usu­ally in charge of rolling, my son would have noth­ing to do with this pici – an el­e­men­tal flour and wa­ter pasta. My friend’s twin girls, on the other hand, were enchanted. It was the first time they had put on aprons, swished flour and touched dough – squeez­ing it, pulling it, cram­ming it in their mouths. My dad re­luc­tantly got in­volved – he had an email to fin­ish, and his hands are a bit arthritic – but then we all rolled and pulled, an all-con­sum­ing floury fam­ily meet­ing. I am not sure how Tus­cans get their pici so slen­der. Ours looked like tape­worms. Emiko’s recipe and pictures look more charm­ing. Fat they may be, but it was la­bo­ri­ous fun.

I like how Ital­ian food is demo­cratic and ready for im­pro­vi­sa­tion. It’s fam­ily food with­out the need for la­bels. With these pici, you could use tomato sauce, peper­onata blended with a soft­en­ing spoon­ful of ri­cotta, twice cooked broc­coli, or this sauce of pea and ri­cotta, which is a favourite in our house. At this time of year, this sauce is made even bet­ter by a task ev­ery­one likes: pod­ding peas. It works just as well with the trusty frozen peas. I sup­pose you could call it pesto if you wanted, which af­ter all means “pounded” sauce. Treat the recipe

as a tem­plate: add more gar­lic, more or less herbs, a hand­ful of pine nuts or al­monds – what­ever you like. And don’t for­get the pasta cook­ing wa­ter, which loosens ev­ery­thing into a soft cream. Singing as you cook is op­tional.

Pici pasta with pea and ri­cotta sauce Serves 4

200g plain 00-flour

200g hard wheat pasta flour

1 tbsp olive oil

Tepid wa­ter

For the sauce

400g peas (fresh or frozen) 60g parme­san, grated 150g ri­cotta A small hand­ful of fresh basil A sprig of mint A gar­lic clove (op­tional) Salt and black pep­per

1 Tip the flour into a bowl or on to a work sur­face. Swirl a hole into the cen­tre. Add the oil, then grad­u­ally add enough wa­ter, work­ing it into the flour, un­til you have a slightly tacky ball of dough. Knead it for 8 min­utes or so, us­ing the heels of your palms, ro­tat­ing as you go, un­til soft, smooth and consistent. Rest the dough un­der an up­turned bowl for 30 min­utes.

2 Mean­while, make the pesto. If us­ing fresh peas, cook them in fast-boiling, salted wa­ter for 3–5 min­utes, then drain. If us­ing frozen, cover with boiling wa­ter, leave for 1 minute; drain. Blitz with the herbs and gar­lic, if us­ing, un­til you have rough paste. Stir in the ri­cotta and parme­san. Sea­son to taste.

3 Make the pici by rolling out wal­nut­sized pieces of dough be­tween your palms, then roll on a lightly floured sur­face, stretch­ing as you go, un­til they look like thin worms. Bring a pan of wa­ter to a fast boil, add salt, stir, then cook un­til al dente. Drain, re­serv­ing a little of the pasta cook­ing wa­ter.

4 Mean­while, put most of the pea and ri­cotta sauce in a bowl, thin with a little cook­ing wa­ter, add the pasta and toss. Add more cook­ing wa­ter if it seems a little thick, then di­vide be­tween bowls. Pass around more parme­san.

Cook’s tip You could in­clude fresh or frozen broad beans. Also, for more tex­ture, don’t puree all the peas. Creme fraiche also works.

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