Paglia e FienoToday’s recipe is another in a series celebrating the Spring harvest. Thus far, we’ve prepared dishes that included artichokes, asparagus, and ramps. Today, I’m going to share a recipe that comes from Lazio, Rome’s district, and that features freshly shelled peas and prosciutto in a cheese-flavored cream sauce. And if that hasn’t grabbed your attention, the pasta’s two colors surely will. This dish, you see, is named after the pasta used to make it, but calling it “Giallo e Verde”, “Yellow & Green”, would be so not Italian. As I’ve mentioned in the past, when it comes to naming pasta, the Italians have always let their imaginations run wild — and this pasta is no different. Here, it’s not yellow pasta but straw, paglia, while the green pasta is hay, fieno. Ready in minutes, Paglia e Fieno is another great tasting pasta to add to your arsenal, whether served as a primo piatto or main course.
This was a favorite of both families in the old two-flat every Spring. Unlike today, frozen foods were just beginning to appear in stores, so, making this dish meant shelling peas. I can remember helping Mom shell them — until I grew up a little and the novelty wore off. After that, I made myself scarce when the metal colander and bag of peas appeared. Still, even once Bird’s Eye became a household name, fresh peas continued to be used to make this dish each Spring. As good as frozen peas may be, you just cannot beat the taste of fresh and if there’s one thing to be said about the best of Italian cooking, it’s that it relies upon the freshest of ingredients. To that end, my Zia and I continue to enjoy this dish every Spring and it wouldn’t be Easter at her youngest Son’s home if Paglia e Fieno isn’t served.
As mentioned earlier, this dish’s name comes from the coloring of the pasta. Green-colored noodles can be found in many groceries, some even packaged with yellow and bearing the name of Straw & Hay. You certainly needn’t buy it if you don’t want to. Just using Mom’s pasta dough recipe as-is, or a fraction thereof, will give you the straw. To make hay — whether or not the Sun shines — add a couple of tablespoons of cooked, chopped spinach to the eggs before adding them to the flour when you make the dough. (Mom & Zia used spinach baby food to make pasta verde but spinach baby food is now only sold when combined with peas or beans. The color, as a result, isn’t as deep.) Moving away from the pasta, the thickness of the prosciutto to be used is totally up to you. For the dish pictured, I was lucky enough to be at my Greek market just as the deli was putting out a package of prosciutto end slices. At about ⅛ inch thick, these were easily chopped and, for my taste, stood up to the cream sauce very well. You can ask your deli to cut the prosciutto thicker or, if you prefer to use it thinly sliced, shred it before adding it to the pan. Lastly, be sure to set aside some pasta water. The cream sauce can “seize up”, meaning get too dry, particularly if you’re timing is off and it is left waiting for the pasta to finish cooking. Adding a splash of pasta water can revive it, as well as later, should it seize up again once the cheese is added.
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Paglia e Fieno Recipe
- ½ lb (225g) yellow fettuccine (linguine, tagliatelle, or pappardelle may be substituted)
- ½ lb (225g) green-colored pasta of the same type as the yellow pasta
- 3 tbsp (45ml) butter
- 1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup (236ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (140g) fresh peas
- 4 to 6 oz (110 to 170g) prosciutto
- ½ cup (60g) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated — more for serving
- salt and pepper, to taste
- fresh parsley, chopped — for garnish
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil for cooking the fettuccine. Time it so that the pasta is just shy of al dente about the time that the peas are cooked to your liking. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
- Heat oil and butter in a large, deep frying pan over med-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook for another minute.
- Add heavy cream and simmer a few minutes until slightly reduced.
- Add the prosciutto and peas, stirring till well-combined. If sauce becomes too thick, add a little pasta water to thin it.
- When pasta is just shy of al dente and peas are sufficiently cooked, taste to check seasoning and add the cooked pasta to the frying pan. Stir well. If necessary, add some pasta water to thin the sauce.
- Remove from heat, add grated cheese, mix thoroughly, and move to serving platter.
- Serve immediately, garnished with grated cheese, parsley, and cracked pepper.
This dish is just as good when prepared with pancetta, bacon, or ham in place of the prosciutto. Because they’re raw, though, be sure to saute the pancetta or bacon with the onions before adding the cream and peas. And if someone at your table doesn’t like peas, other vegetables can be substituted. Asparagus is commonly used, as are sliced crimini mushrooms. No matter what you choose to add, be sure it’s fresh and you cannot go wrong.
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You probably noticed that salt wasn’t added to the recipe until the end. That’s because some of the ingredients can be pretty salty in their own right. The salt content of the prosciutto — or it’s substitutes of pancetta, bacon, and ham — can vary greatly. The cheese and amount of pasta water you use can, also, add a fair amount of salt to the final dish. So, although I’ll season the dish liberally with pepper throughout its cooking, I’ll only use salt minimally, if at all, until I’ve tasted the dish at the very end. Even then, I may not add any. Again, let your own palate be your guide.
Spinach is not the only ingredient used to color pasta. I’ve used tomato paste to make pasta rosso (red), and I’m aware that beet juice can be used to make it purple, pasta viola, while squash is used to give pasta an orange hue, pasta arancione. And no discussion of pasta coloring would be complete without mentioning pasta nera which gets its black color from the ink of squid (calamari) or cuttlefish (seppia). If you find that a different color palette tickles your palate, you may wish to check out my recipe for Tricolor Risotto, which uses pesto and tomato paste to create a risotto platter that bears the colors of the Italian flag.
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By any other name …
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