The calendar says it’s Springtime, nearly summer, even, but the winter weather we’re having is putting a damper on my mood. Last night, in a desperate attempt to lighten things up, I cooked up this quick pasta dish that celebrates Spring. This Orecchiette with Goat Cheese, Peas, and Mint is a variation of a pasta dish with asparagus and goat cheese that appears in The Lazy Gourmet. While we considered including a variation with fresh Spring peas in the book, we nixed the idea thinking that shelling peas would be too time-consuming for the average Lazy Gourmet, but when I ran across a bag of shelled fresh peas at the market the other day, I just couldn’t resist. Besides, you can always substitute frozen peas, which are almost as delicious as fresh.
This is a dish that can easily be tossed together in less than 30 minutes for a quick weeknight meal. I blanch the peas right along with the pasta, throwing them into the boiling water with two or three minutes to go. The leeks are sliced and sautéed as the pasta cooks, and then the cheese, butter, cream (or half-and-half or milk) are added to the same pan. A drizzle of the pasta-water and a brief simmer are all it takes to create the delectable sauce. A last-minute addition of minced fresh mint adds a fresh, herby note and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts a nice toothsome crunch.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), trimmed, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
- 1 pound dry orechiette or other short pasta
- 10 ounces shelled peas
- 5 ounces fresh goat cheese
- ½ cup heavy cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
- Zest and/or juice of 1 lemon (optional)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- Freshly grated Parmesan for serving (optional)
- Set a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil for pasta. Once the water comes to a rapid boil, add the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy skillet, over medium-high heat, until the butter is melted and oil is hot. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- About 3 minutes before the pasta is done, add the peas to the boiling water. When pasta and peas are done, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain in a colander.
- To the skillet with the leeks, add the goat cheese, salt, and cream, half-and-half, or milk and cook, stirring frequently, until the cheese is melted.
- Add lemon zest and/or lemon juice, if using, pasta, and peas and cook, stirring, until well combined.
- If you like a creamier consistency, add a little of the reserved pasta water or more half-and-half or cream.
- Stir in the chopped mint.
- Taste, and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve immediately, garnished with toasted pine nuts and freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.