The peas in question are frozen peas, the seasonal reason being that this recipe is best enjoyed when the weather gets nippy — and that’s not when peas are in season. This recipe falls squarely into the ‘comfort/childhood recollection’ category and there is nothing sophisticated about it. It is not meant to impress. It is a very handy solution for those occasions when the shopping list you carefully wrote out never got consulted in the end, and two days later you don’t know what to make for the family meal, as you’re so busy doing a thousand-and-one other things. The ingredients are the thoughtul kind: those that are nearly always in the freezer or the pantry. You don’t have to invoke the kitchen angel to help you further when you realise that you can easily reach for: flour (50g), butter 50g), milk (500ml), frozen peas, pasta (500g) and 500g of tomato sauce (or plum tomatoes). The last ingredient, parmesan cheese, is a staple in any Italian household. If you haven’t got any, use any other cheese you may have that will ‘melt’ well: e.g. cheddar or emmenthal or gruyère (however, no fresh cheeses, no stilton or gorgonzola). The amount you grate will depend on how ‘cheesy’ you like your food but an approximate amount would be 150g.
The first thing to do is turn the oven on at 200°C.
Here is a 450g packet of frozen peas.
I put the water on the boil and plopped a sprig of rosemary into it as well as the ends of the courgettes … just to add that little extra sub-taste to the dish. Don’t worry if you don’t have the courgettes … this recipe is all about peas, the courgettes are a waste-not-want-not curlicue.
Out came the pyrex oven dish. I cut the courgettes into rounds and kept the flowers too. I spread everything over the dish to see whether it would be enough — which it was. The eye has to ‘see’ things sometimes, in order to get things right.
When the water started boiling, I added salt and then the pasta. I cut the cooking time on the pasta by 3 minutes (i.e. the recommended cooking time was 12 minutes but I drained it after 9 minutes). Do taste the pasta before draining it, however. It should be almost cooked but not rock hard. By all means let it cook another minute or two if it requires it. Just do not overcook the pasta because the idea is for it to finish cooking in the oven.
I decided that more parmesan cheese was necessary. Recipes can give you very precise instructions … but our tongue is the best judge in the end. You have to taste, taste, taste and taste again to make sure you achieve the right balance of flavours. If the bechamel is too thick, for instance, you can add a splash of milk.
Into the oven (200°C) for about 30-35 minutes. You can dot the pasta with little ribbons of butter too, if you like. I do ‘like’ … but I forgot! A sprinkling of very fine breadcrumps is also a nice touch.
P.S. Re the tomato sauce. I happened to have some salsa di pomodoro (tomato sauce) in the fridge, so I was lucky. A simple salsa is not difficult to make however: just slice 1 onion very thinly and poach it (i.e. over a soft heat) with the plum or fresh tomatoes in plenty of olive oil for about 20 minutes. Add a small pinch of sugar as well as the right amount of salt. Add any fresh herb you may find in your fridge towards the end.