My eternal love for dried pasta will never dwindle, but my relationship with this pantry staple has changed these past few weeks. As I’ve relied on pasta more and more during this pandemic, I’ve needed to dig deep to avoid boredom.
My solution: Create pasta sauces that feature pureed vegetables—the results are silky, creamy, and deeply flavorful. Maybe you’ve already tried this with cauliflower, broccoli, or beets. Really, the options are endless.
A recent experiment with pureed fava beans yielded a sauce that tasted earthy and delicate, with small hints of lemon, mint, and roasted garlic. Of course, fresh favas can be tricky to track down. If you can get a hold of some, I highly recommend swapping them into this recipe (instead of 2 cups of blanched peas, just use 2 cups shucked fava beans).
After favas, the next best thing might already be in your freezer: frozen peas. Reserving some of the pasta cooking water is all that’s needed to transform pea puree into a sauce that beautifully clings to pasta. Finely grated Pecorino Romano will add additional creaminess and umami, but you could easily omit the cheese and serve a vegan pasta that tastes nearly as rich as any Alfredo sauce.
If you don’t have peas, try making a puree out of sautéed fennel or even marinated artichoke hearts. And if you don’t have leeks, you can swap in anything from onions to shallots to scallions. This is a recipe that’s meant to be versatile—especially now, when grocery shopping is more difficult than it used to be. Use the recipe as a guideline rather than a contract, and if you end up making some delicious adjustments, leave a comment below, and tell us all about it. —Josh Cohen
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 3 to 4
- Pea sauce
cloves garlic, thinly sliced
extra-virgin olive oil
frozen green peas
fresh mint leaves, gently packed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
freshly squeezed lemon juice
extra-virgin olive oil
fusilli (or another short dried pasta shape)
Pea sauce (above)
fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped, plus an extra handful to garnish
finely grated pecorino cheese, gently packed, plus more to taset
- Pea sauce
- Add the garlic and olive oil to a small pot. Set the pot over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic until it just begins to caramelize, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
- While the garlic is cooking, set a large pot of water over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the peas and cook for 2 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to remove (we’ll use that water to cook the pasta in just a bit).
- Add the peas to a blender, along with the cooked garlic and oil, and remaining ingredients. Blend on the highest setting until you have a smooth puree. Taste and adjust with salt and lemon as needed. (If you want to make this puree up to a few days ahead and store in the refrigerator, omit the lemon juice and add it on the day you’re going to serve this dish.)
- To prepare the leeks, remove the tough, dark green outer layers, Then halve each leek lengthwise, keeping the root end intact. Rinse the leeks under cold running water, carefully removing all dirt and grit from the layers. Slice into half-moons about ½ inch wide, and discard the root.
- Bring the water that you used to cook the peas back to a boil. While you wait for the water to heat up, add the leeks, olive oil, chili flakes, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to a large skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the leeks are soft and just beginning to caramelize.
- When the water is rapidly boiling, add salt until the water tastes pleasantly salty, then cook the fusilli for 1 minute less than the box recommends. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the water.
- Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water to the skillet with the leeks, and stir to combine. (If you feel like your skillet isn’t big enough for all that pasta, just transfer everything back to the pasta pot.)
- Add the pea puree and mint to the pasta, and set the heat to medium. Stir until the pasta is fully coated with sauce, then add the Pecorino, making sure to reserve a little for garnish. Stir the pasta until the sauce is warm and clings to the fusilli. Taste, and adjust with more salt or lemon juice as needed. Serve immediately, garnishing each individual portion with a sprinkle of pecorino and fresh mint.