The idea is to take what’s in season—peas or corn or brussels sprouts, tomatoes or leeks, even grated pumpkin or fall squash—and toss it with pasta, adding about 3 to 5 ounces of meat (cured pork, bacon or sausage—I have even been known to dice salami and use it the same way) per half pound.
I use this premise in many ways, sweating out a piece of lardo with finely chopped celery, carrots, and onions as the base for a wintry tomato sauce made with canned San Marzano tomatoes, or adding a tasty bit of bacon to peas for a spring pasta. In the fall, I crisp bits of pancetta in the pan and wilt brussels sprout leaves in the fat with a crushed clove of garlic and a few sprigs of thyme. In the summer, I take the classic ingredients for pasta amatriciana and use bacon and cherry tomatoes to make a “summer” version (in quotation marks because, really, Romans would never countenance this being called amatriciana). In the spring, I might make a purée of cooked greens and toss big fat shells with it, then lay slivers of paper-thin prosciutto or pancetta over the still-hot pasta so that the pork just wilts a little from its residual heat. At Porsena, our most famous dish is a twist on the Abruzzi classic of sausage and broccoli rabe, but we make it with North African spiced lamb sausage and mustard greens.
As you play around with the combinations, you will see how easy it is to use this recipe as a template and to swap one thing out for another. With more delicate, tender vegetables, such as peas or corn, I use more delicate herbs like basil, mint or lovage (a favorite of mine but you probably need to grow it in your herb garden to find it easily); with stronger, bolder flavors, I add more robust herbs such as thyme or sage.
Pea tendrils hold up better, but if all you can find are pea shoots, with tender leaves attached, just toss them in at the very end so they are slightly wilted by the residual heat of the cooked pasta dish. —Sara Jenkins
- Serves 4
short, stubby artisanal pasta, such as Rustichella d’Abruzzo
extra-virgin olive oil
prosciutto di Parma, cut into 1/4-inch slice then diced finely, fat and meat
scallions, finely slivered or chopped, including green tops
fresh corn kernels
pea tendrils, cut into 2-inch lengths, or pea shoots (see headnote)
fresh summer savory, basil, or marjoram
grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt, to taste
- Set a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter with the olive oil.
- Add the prosciutto and allow it to just wilt a little in the fat. Add the scallions and sauté briefly, still on low heat.
- Add 1/4 cup of water and let come up to a simmer. Add the corn and tendrils, if using, and cook until the water has evaporated by half.
- Turn off the heat and set aside while you cook the pasta. Salt the pasta water (truth be told, I always salt the pasta water when I put it on to boil so I won’t forget, but in theory, you are supposed to salt after it comes to a boil. I can’t tell the difference myself but you can make your own mind up). Cook the pasta according to package instructions and drain when finished.
- Toss with the corn, the cooked pea tendrils (if using pea sprouts instead, add them now) and herbs. Toss well and then add the cheese and toss more..
- Taste for salt (the prosciutto will add quite a bit of salt, so it might not need any), grind pepper over the pasta, and serve and eat immediately.