No one is neutral on peas.
In England for a conference a few decades ago I was taken to dinner by a local guy who ordered something the English like to eat. It came with a side of mushy peas (mushy rhymes with bushy). To the eye the peas looked like they had been cooked 2-3 hours, then stored away to languish in cans for 2-3 decades. They were the color of bile, more texture than taste.
Aside from a few summers I was sent out to the garden to pick peas, and unpodded them and ate them on the spot, I do not have warm memories of peas.
Flash forward to pasta with ragu, which I learned to love at my mother-in-law’s table and which I now make. With peas. Depending on where you eat in Italy you find peas in ragu or you don’t. I suppose Italians must be no different than any other population, divided on the issue of peas. (In the US, peas is the fifth most popular vegetable, 83 percents Americans are pea-positive.) I don’t have any data on Italians, I never took notes on the issue, but my hunch is that in most restaurants over there, if they serve pasta with ragu, it’s a pea-free ragu. (This is a research project I look forward to pursuing with rigor in the years ahead.)
Today for lunch we ate orecchiette (little ears) with ragu. Herewith, the recipe, for which you will want chopped onion (I chopped two the size of tennis balls), a third of a pound of ground pork, a quarter cup of wine, a cup of tomato puree, and a bag of frozen peas. And a little butter.
Cooking and prep time, 1 hr. See photos and comments below for how-to.
1. Chopped onion. My daughter apprenticed at the cousins’ restaurant in Spadarolo, where cousin Marco makes the ragu. “Dad,” she said, “you can’t believe all the onion he puts in that sauce.” Since then, I’ve been all in on the onion. My mother-in-law used to say, “La cipolla da sempre di buono.” Onion makes everything good. Evidently Marco also used a lot of LARD in his sauce. I am not lardophobic, but haven’t yet reached the point of trying lard instead of—or along with—olive oil. The onions shown here sauté gently in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Stir in the ground pork. Raise the heat to medium. Roll the meat in the pan, poking and gouging to break the meat into smaller pieces. 10 minutes on this.
3. I add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white or red wine, cover the sauce and cook the wine off. 10 minutes.
4. Next a cup or so of plain puree. None of that pre-seasoned stuff. 10 minutes or so. Add the tomato, add the peas, warm to a boil. Then cover and lower the heat. 35 minutes cooking time.
5, A friend of ours in Serravalle, my wife’s home town, served us tagliatelle for lunch. On the platter of pasta mixed with ragu, she added 12-15 pads of butter. Overkill. But butter adds flavor and a silk factor to the sauce. Be not afraid.
The peas are sweet and tender. You want a pasta that will be compatible with them. See how the orecchiette are like little bowls with peas nestled and ensconced in them? Glorious. Buon appetito.