I don't miss the fattiness of a cream sauce, but sometimes I miss the combination of a creamy dairy-based sauce with my pasta. When I do, I use part-skim ricotta cheese instead. It's not quite the same, but its long shelf life in the refrigerator makes it easy to keep on hand.
I usually mix it with a green vegetable for flavor, texture and substance. Some of my favorites are asparagus, broccoli and, in the dead of winter, frozen peas.
This recipe comes together quickly and is economical in its use of pots and pans. I add the vegetable (already cut into bite-size pieces unless I'm using peas) to the pasta in the last few minutes of cooking time. Right in the serving dish, the ricotta is combined with some of the pasta cooking water to make a sauce.
Because peas are one of the few vegetables that take well to freezing, I've used them here as I do often during the cold months. To add the fresh taste of warmer days, I finish the dish with chopped fresh basil, which I can buy year-round. As a member of the mint family, it has a natural affinity with peas.
- 8 ounces small or medium shell-shaped dried pasta
- 8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) frozen petite peas
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, cut into thin strips
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Add the peas for the last 4 minutes of the pasta cooking time. Drain the pasta and peas, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Combine the ricotta and 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water in a large serving bowl, then add the drained pasta and peas; toss to combine. If the mixture is too thick, add some of the remaining cooking water in tablespoon increments until the sauce evenly coats the pasta.
Add three-quarters of the basil, the salt (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) and pepper to taste; toss to combine. Top with the remaining basil and serve immediately, with Parmesan cheese for passing at the table, if desired.
NOTE: To introduce more flavor, try adding some roasted cherry tomatoes, finely chopped fresh mint or some crushed red pepper flakes.
From Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
Tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.