Orecchiette with Mushrooms, Asparagus & Peas

This pasta should be seen as a template for a basic, spring vegetable, pantry pasta.  You can replace the thyme with tarragon…or even rosemary.  The dish is nice with a little parsley or dill thrown in at the end too. The pancetta can be replaced with bacon…or prosciutto.  If you use prosciutto, start the scallions/spring onions in a bit more oil or butter and add the julienne (or minced) prosciutto with the asparagus and peas.  If you have fava beans, they would be delicious in place of the peas.  If you need a bit more protein, this pasta would make a great bed for a nice piece of salmon…or a boneless chicken breast. 


Besides being delicious, versatile and an early harbinger of the delicacies of the spring market to come, this pasta is very quick to make—from raw ingredients to table in about 30 minutes.  I guess you could say it’s an all around perfect dinner for even the busiest of spring days. 



Orecchiette with Mushrooms, Asparagus & Peas


1 T. olive oil, divided

1 oz. minced pancetta

4 oz. mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick

2 T. butter, divided

2 to 3 spring onions or scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1/3 to 1/2 c.—use equal quantity of white and green portion)

1/2 T. chopped fresh thyme

1/2 c. peas

2 oz. (trimmed weight) asparagus, cut on a short diagonal 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick (to make 1/2 cup)

1/2 c. chicken stock or water

1/2 lb. orecchiette

1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Parmesan


Render the pancetta in 1/2 T. of the olive oil in a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer and also accommodate the cooked pasta) set over medium low heat.  When then pancetta is crisp (after about five minutes) remove to a plate.  Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium high.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and tender (about five minutes).  Season with salt & pepper and reduce the heat to medium. 


Add a half tablespoon of the butter to the pan.  Add the spring onions, along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until wilted and tender—about 2 to 3 minutes.  


Add the thyme, peas, asparagus and the cooked pancetta, stirring to coat the vegetables in the onions and fat.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar and continue to simmer gently—checking occasionally to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated—until the vegetables are just tender…about 6 to 8 minutes.  Set aside until the pastas is ready.


About the time you add the stock to the vegetables, drop the pasta in a large pot of boiling well-salted water.  Cook until the noodles are al dente.  Drain the pasta, saving a half cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid.  Add the pasta to the vegetables and toss to combine.  Cut the remaining butter into 3 or 4 pieces and add.  Toss and stir the pasta until the butter has emulsified into the sauce and the noodles and vegetables are coated in a light, buttery film of sauce.  If the pasta seems dry, add enough pasta water to obtain a fluid sauce.   You may add some of the cheese to the pasta, tossing/stirring to combine—or save it all to pass at the table.


Pasta serves 2 to 3.  Recipe is easily doubled—simply choose a pan wide enough to accommodate the vegetables and pasta as described above. 

Brookside Market