Family Favorite: Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables
Do you know that feeling you get when the family or friends are together and all is good with the world? It can happen spontaneously by a simple gesture or after a big heartfelt moment. I treasure those moments, the feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. Peace. At those times the little things do add up and are greatly appreciated. A simple “Thank you”, carries a generous statement of gratitude. “You are doing a great job”, gives a small boost of confidence. “I am here”, builds reassurance that you are not alone. Even a home cooked meal gives family and friends a time and place to gather, share show gratitude, promote confidence and feel connected.
I know it sounds cliché, but in our home that moment and feeling would happen when we served pasta for dinner. When pasta was on the table, everyone was happy. A pasta dinner satisfied all taste and food preferences in the family. There were no protests at dinner, even if it did include an ingredient that was not a particular favorite. That offending food would get pushed aside and everything else devoured without complaint. When the, “… What?… Why? …Really?…Again? …I hate that,” dinner drama was not a focal point of the evening, the five of us would be relaxed, the conversation would flow, jokes told, and all was right with the world.
On the occasions when I combined two favorite foods in one meal, that made the evening a special occasion. My children love ham almost as much as they love pasta and a dinner of pasta with ham, (and peas), filled them with joy. Andrew, Evan and Taylor loved it so much, they ate the peas without complaint. If I asked any one of them what they wanted for dinner, pasta with ham was frequent ly requested.
Now that my sons are independent, they enjoy cooking this meal for their friends and significant others. Often, on a late weekend afternoon, I would get a call asking me how to make this pasta dinner. My oldest son, Andrew, claims that it was after he made pasta with ham and spring vegetables for Amanda, “the woman of his dreams”, their relationship went from casual to true love. Now, Andrew and Amanda are happily married so don’t underestimate the power of a good home cooked pasta dinner.
When it’s pasta for dinner, all is right with the world.
Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables
- 1 lb pasta penne, farfalle or fusilli are great choices
- 12 oz cured ham sliced in strips 1 inch by 1/4 inch
- 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
- 1 to 2 lbs of asparagus
- 1 small leek cleaned and white and light green parts sliced thin
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth preferably homemade or low salt store bought
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 Tbls chopped fresh tarragon plus one sprig of tarragon
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 1-2 Tb butter
- Kosher salt
Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking.
Clean and cut off the woody end of each asparagus spear. Hold onto to each end of an asparagus spear and bend it bringing both ends together. Where it snaps off, the bottom portion is the woody tip, discard. Cut the remainder of the asparagus spears into thirds.
Peel the garlic and remove the green germ (sprout of a new garlic plant), then mince the garlic,
Slice the ham to even strips shorter than the asparagus.
Fill a 5 qt stock pot halfway to three quarters full with fresh water. Set the stock pot with the water on a burner and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a rapid boil and cook pasta according to the directions on the back of the pasta box.
Reserve some of the pasta cooking water when finished cooking.
Make the spring vegetable and ham sauce.
Begin preparing the sauce while you are waiting for the water to boil. Melt 1 Tbl olive oil and 1 Tbl butter in a large 12-inch skillet, or sauté pan. Once the butter has melted add the leeks and garlic to the pan. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt and sauté stirring lightly. Add the prepared asparagus and tarragon spear to the leeks and briefly sauté. Add about 1/2 cup vegetable broth, cover the pan, and braise the vegetables on medium heat for about 5 minutes. The asparagus will not be completely cooked through at this point. You want them to still be crisp with some liquid in the pan. Take the top off the skillet and add the sliced ham and peas. Continue cooking the vegetable and ham mixture at a low simmer, uncovered. This should be around 3-5 minutes before the pasta is done. You are just warming up the ham and peas since they are already cooked.
Putting it all together
Once the pasta is done, turn off the heat, scoop out some pasta cooking water and set aside, and drain out the water through a strainer. Return the pasta to the pot on the stove. Add the grated cheese and a small amount of the pasta water, start with about 1/4 cup or less, to the pasta and stir until the cheese is melted and everything is evenly distributed. Add the vegetable and ham sauce, minced tarragon, and 1 Tb of butter or olive oil to he pasta. Stir until mixed through.
Serve immediately with grated cheese and fresh ground black pepper on the side.
1.It is hard to mess up with pasta, with the exception of overcooking it. Over cooked pasta is mushy and miserable. Use the back of the box as a guideline for cooking time and begin tasting a couple of minutes before the recommended total cooking time. Cook the pasta al dente. There will still be a firm texture, but not chewy or raw tasting. The color of the pasta will have an even appearance and there will be nothing mushy or gummy about it. 2. Just like overcooked pasta, overcooked vegetables are a major disappointment. They lose their shape, texture and flavor when they are overcooked. I like my vegetables cooked but still crisp in texture with a bit of freshness left in them. Watch the vegetables and taste for desired doneness.
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