Pasta with Fresh Peas, Ricotta and Mint Pesto

Pasta with Fresh Peas, Ricotta and Mint Pesto (serves 4-6)

Just-picked peas, lavender and mint

Inspired by my daughters who introduced me to mint pesto.  They emailed me after eating a sensational dinner in Venice Torino–one of the delights was mint pesto.  In an Aha! moment, I thought, yes, this is how I can put all that crazy mint to good use–figuring out how to make pesto and then freezing vast quantities of the stuff to bring a little summer into my winter.

 

Ingredients:
1 lb. fresh or dried long pasta (e.g. spaghetti or linguini)

1 large bunch fresh mint (generous 2 cups of tender leaves and a few extra cut into thin strips)

½ cup fresh parsley leaves

¼ cup olive oil, more if needed (the best you have)

½ -whole clove of garlic, peeled

sea or kosher salt

2-3 TB pine nuts, lightly toasted until golden in a dry skillet (optional)

juice of half lemon (or more to taste) and the zest of one lemon cut into thin strips

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan and/or pecorino cheese

½ cup fresh ricotta cheese

2 cups fresh shell peas, snap peas, favas or a combination

a pinch of hot pepper flakes (optional)

Make the pesto (much as you would with basil):

1. If you have a mortar and pestle, make a paste of the garlic, a small pinch of salt and a tablespoon or so of the olive oil.  You can also skip this step and add the garlic after the mint is chopped in Step 2.

2. Wash and dry the mint and parsley. Pull the leaves from the stems, discard stems, bruise leaves with a pestle or the back of a wooden spoon to release the fragrance and oils a bit and place in a food processor or blender.  Pulse until finely chopped.  Add the garlic paste or whole clove, the optional pine nuts and pulse until chopped and mixed.

3.  Add the lemon juice and the olive oil bit by bit, pulsing until you have a creamy pesto.

4.  Mix in the cheese.

5.  Taste and add more lemon, oil or salt if you like.

6.  Place the pesto in the bottom of a large, shallow bowl.  Mix in the ricotta scoop by scoop until well mixed. It will be quite thick at this point.

7.  Cook the pasta in boiling water. As it cooks, saute the peas very quickly in a small amount of olive oil. (No more than ten seconds if they are fresh, longer if they are older.) Fold into the ricotta-pesto. When the pasta is ready, pour a couple of large spoonfuls of its cooking water into the sauce and stir a few times to thin to a smooth consistency.

8. Drain the pasta and pour into the bowl, mixing well.  Add the lemon zest and hot pepper flakes.  Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if needed.

9.  Serve, topped by a sprinkling of cut mint leaves and accompanied by freshly grated parmesan for each person to add if they wish. Buon Appetito!

Variations:

Use half parsley, half mint.  Add a handful of basil.  Reduce the cheeses and add crumbled feta cheese. Eliminate the ricotta. Serve with oil-cured olives, or nasturtium or squash flowers quickly sautéed. Serve with diced fresh dates and pomegranate seeds on couscous.

Frozen Mint Pesto (Just the Mint and Olive Oil--Add Other Ingredients During Cooking)

All kinds of pesto freeze well.  I pour batches into ice cube trays, cover with a bit of olive oil, then freeze.  Store in bags or jars in the freezer. Frozen cubes can be added to spaghetti sauces, to tagines, to mashed potatoes, to polenta, to pizza toppings.

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