pasta with yogurt, peas, and chile

pasta with yogurt, peas, and chile

shells with yogurt chile and peas.jpg

I’ve been trying to write about this pasta for a couple of weeks, but now, during what has got to be the trillionth hour of attempted writing, I’m calling it - I have way too much to say about this pasta.

Of course, it's not the pasta, in all of its creamy, punchy goodness.  It’s me. You see, the thing that I keep getting hung up on every time I sit down to write is that, while I've only made this dish once since moving to San Francisco last August, I made it quite often while living in New York City. According to the time and date stamp on the pictures from my phone, I was making it about this time last year, in my tiny but homey Upper East Side apartment kitchen - my spare but sweet sanctuary, equipped with it’s own mini dishwasher, perched on the fourth floor of a tall skinny apartment building just three blocks from the Met and Central Park. When I did get around to making it in my equally tiny kitchen here in San Francisco, I was flooded with all sorts of emotions that I didn’t even realize were inside of me. That’s not unlike me, though, to fall ass backwards into a whirlpool of nostalgia over a bag of frozen peas and plop of greek yogurt.  

But what a delicious plop of yogurt it is! Truth be told, the nostalgia-inducing aspect of cooking is a big part of why I enjoy it so much. It’s a form of time travel, being transported to the present or the future, to a different city with different people, all because of a smell or flavor or texture. With this dish it was the preparation, more than the eating, that sent me back to my kitchen in NYC.

“Perfect!” I thought.  This experience is the very reason I wanted to start a blog in the first place. I mean, if you’re gonna get in your feelings over a bowl of pasta, then by all means, take to the typewriter (er, MacBook Air?) and hash it out! Find yourself in the words! ...or something like that. But I’m struggling with my thoughts on New York City. I’ve been writing about it too, though the words are only touching the page for a millisecond before they get swallowed up by the backspace button, again and again. Meanwhile, this pasta deserves to be shared. So I’m going to start here with the recipe, leave the big nostalgic pondering for another day, and call it living in the present. I hope this dish finds its way into your kitchen...and if you move, into that kitchen too!

Recipe Observations:

  • The prep here is pleasantly simple. The yogurt, peas, garlic, and olive oil all get tossed into the food processor and whizzed up until transformed into a smooth and pale green sauce that is perfectly light and loud with garlic. This sauce coats the pasta nicely and is an ideal base layer of flavor to support the salty, crumbly feta and the fresh, earthy basil. The pine nuts and Aleppo-scented olive oil are drizzled on top of the individual portions, so that each bite contains a faint streak of heat and crunch to offset the creaminess.

  • I often accompany this dish with a hacked version of these carrots (sans yogurt) to keep the daily vegetable intake on the up and up. Instead of boiling the carrots and then sautéing them, I mix all the spices together in a bowl, peel and chop the carrots then coat with olive oil, toss the carrots in spice mix, spread them out on a sheet pan, and then roast at 375 - 400 degrees for about 20 mins.

  • I always halve this recipe since I’m only feeding two hungry adults (usually arriving home from a run/bike/swim). Using a half pound of pasta produces two hefty dinner servings for us, plus roughly 4 cups of leftover for lunch. I usually take a ~2 cup serving for lunch two days in a row after we have it for supper, and then we still toss a little.

  • By the third and fourth times that I made this recipe, I was eyeballing the peas (both inside and outside the yogurt sauce), basil, and feta. After a few variations my ultimate preference turned out to be more like ¾ of a bag of peas total, with the majority going into the sauce, a couple of ripped up handfuls of basil, and then the same amount of feta, but half stirred in at first and the rest crumbled atop each individual plate. It’s a no-brainer to make this one your own.

Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile, from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2 ½ cups (500 g) of Greek Yogurt
a scant 2/3 cup (150 ml, or a bit less) of extra virgin olive oil, divided for two uses
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 bag of frozen peas, thawed; or 1 lb (500 g) fresh peas
1 lb (500 g) pasta, Ottolenghi uses conchiglie (small shells) but we preferred it best with orecchiette
½ cup (60 g) pine nuts
2 tsp Turkish or Syrian chile flakes (Aleppo for us); start with 1 tsp if you prefer mild heat
coarsely torn basil leaves, to taste
8 oz (240 g) feta cheese, crumbled gently (we enjoy both big and small chunks)
salt and pepper to taste

Set a big pot of salted water on the stove top to boil.

Scoop the yogurt into a food processor along with the garlic, half a bag of peas, and 6 tablespoons (90 ml) of the olive oil.  Whiz the ingredients until they transform into a mostly smooth, pale green sauce (there will be little tiny bits of peas, but the sauce will be smooth otherwise).  Transfer it to a large mixing bowl (or the bowl you’re planning to serve it in if you’re aiming to cut down on dishes).

Cook the pasta until al dente.  While the pasta is cooking heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat in a small frying pan or pot.  Add the pine nuts and chile flakes, swirling the nuts around in the oil often so that they don’t burn.  Cook the pine nuts for about 4 minutes, or until they are a nice deep golden hue and the oil is tinted red.  Dip a heat-safe measuring cup (or a coffee cup) into the pasta water and set it aside.  Add the remaining peas to the pasta water to warm up.  I used the recommend amount of peas the first time, but less each preparation after that.  If you feel like you have a ton of peas left, and you’re not liking the idea of adding all of them to the pasta, hold back here.

Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, and shake it really well to remove as much excess water as possible.  Add a large spoonful or two to the bowl of yogurt sauce and stir it around really well to temper the sauce.  If you add it all at once it will likely curdle (I played it safe every time and did not test this theory).  Quickly drain the peas warming in the hot water and toss them into the bowl of pasta and sauce.  Add the chopped basil, crumbled feta, 1 teaspoon salt, and cracked pepper to taste.  Toss gently to combine.

When you serve your plate (or the plates of your lucky dinner guests), spoon the pine nuts and oil over each individual serving.


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