Orecchiette with pancetta, asparagus, peas and lemon balm
It’s so good to be back in my kitchen, I can’t even tell you. After the nettle dinner (those 24 things are so much work!) I was in the dry, dusty field for a week (botanical surveys in the western Central Valley, California), and spent the weekend alternately recovering on the couch with my feet up and the remote control ruthlessly cutting commercials from Tivo’ed programs, or playing Rune Factory Frontier, or turning and seeding my warming vegetable beds. Even though it was inspirationally gorgeous out, I didn’t really feel like cooking. Not one whit.
The funny thing about being pregnant is that every two hours you are starving. Your blood sugar drops so fast that you simultaneously want to puke and faint. But as famished as I feel, when I finally get around to getting some food in front of me, I can only muster a few bites before I am completely stuffed. Baffled then, am I, that I am gaining weight so quickly. I’ve been putting on almost a pound a week since I found out. It’s going straight to my belly, upper arms and tits, which are rapidly transforming into jugs (I can’t stop staring at them, which is probably why I can see them growing before my very eyes).
But holy shit, this is so not about me. This is about the simple flavors of springtime, about the vernal Holy Trinity (peas, asparagus and ham), about meals that are free of fetter and hamper. In the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta you can have, in your very mouth, a perfect balance of crunchy, sweet, virid, salty, fatty, bright and creamy. Yes, all in one bite.
While you’re waiting for water to boil, string about a half pound of peas and peel the stems of a small bunch of asparagus. Slice these coarsely on the bias into bite-sized chunks. Mince a shallot and three cloves of garlic finely. Chop about a quarter pound of pancetta. Your water is nigh at a boil, so add a fat pinch of kosher salt and dump in nearly an entire pound of orecchiette (leave about a cup in the bag for another time, this’ll still be enough for leftovers).
While the pasta is cooking, render the pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil, and add the shallot and garlic. When the pancetta starts to go crisp and the shallots begin to turn golden, add the peas and asparagus and cook over medium or so, lazily stirring things about with a wooden spoon because it feels so good to hold that spoon (the one with burn marks up the handle from setting it against a hot pan too long, too many times). Salt and pepper things a bit for good measure, and while you’re at it, go ahead and scrape in some lemon zest. Have a bright idea to go pick some lemon balm, since the sunny weather has started it aflush near the little pond out back. Chiffonade that lemon balm and pick some thyme off the tender stems.
Drain the pasta and dump the vegetables and pancetta in, swabbing out the bacon grease with a spoonful of pasta. Since it still could use a little something, why not stir in a knob of good cultured butter and maybe a scant tablespoon of crème fraîche. Stir in the sliced lemon balm and picked thyme, and grate in some grainy Parmesan.