It was one of the first pasta dinners I made after my sister and brother-in-law announced they were going vegan. We were in their kitchen in southern Maine, and I was making a sauce from the best of the early summer produce, right from the huge garden outside.
As it neared readiness, I realized I needed to make a plea, to ask them to do me one little favor, to make one – OK, two – little exceptions to their diet in service of the dish and its integrity. “Please,” I said. “Please don’t put nutritional yeast on this.”
For those of you unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, or nooch, it’s a deactivated, flaked yeast, often fortified with extra B vitamins, that vegans appreciate for its nuttiness and ability to sub for cheese in cooking.
As a pasta purist, however, I have a tough time swallowing its use as a substitute for one of the world’s great cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano. And I knew there would be no substitute for this dish’s crowning touch, another cheese: the pure-white ricotta salata.
They relented. Actually, it didn’t take much convincing.
They appreciated the pasta that night, nodding in agreement and smiling, but in all honesty, I suspect if they make it themselves, they’ll be reaching for the nooch.
Pasta With Lettuce, Peas and Ricotta Salata
3 or 4 servings
Kosher or sea salt
8 ounces dried cavatappi, farfalle or other short pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
One 8-ounce head romaine lettuce, cored and cut crosswise into thin ribbons
3 cups freshly shelled peas (may substitute frozen/defrosted peas)
4 scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves, for garnish
2 ounces ricotta salata, shaved, for garnish (optional; may substitute crumbled feta cheese)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, leaving it slightly undercooked. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large skillet fitted with a lid, set over medium heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the garlic and onion, cover and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the lettuce, peas and scallions; cover and cook until the lettuce has fully wilted, 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low.
Uncover the vegetables and pour the pasta into the skillet, tossing it with the vegetables. Add some of the pasta cooking water as needed to moisten the vegetables. Transfer the pasta and vegetable mixture to a large, shallow serving bowl, toss with the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then sprinkle with the mint and ricotta salata, if using. Serve immediately.
Nutrition per serving (based on 4): 420 calories, 17 g protein, 62 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar.