Pasta with Peas & Dill

Simple pastas are the best. That’s what I learned in Italy. Get good pasta, hopefully fresh, but frozen will do and good quality dried is fine too. Don’t complicate the sauce. Use what you have. I get my pasta from Casetta, where they get their flour from Italy and the chef is Italian!

I got to this from my travels to Turin. I was there for a conference in the 1990s. I was attending a course that ended late and I missed dinner. On my way back to my hotel, I stopped in the little bar for a drink and asked if there was a place to get some food as the hotel restaurant was closed. The owner went into the back and came out with a lovely bowl of pasta with peas in a simple butter sauce. It was delicious. Heavenly. So I came back the next evening and he made another plate of pasta for me, this time with herbs he had on hand. The third night I asked if I could see how he created this magical pasta and he showed me.

This pasta dish is a homage to my teacher in Turin. Travel is remarkable in so many ways, but for me food and connection to place is the most meaningful.

The pasta and peas both provide protein, the butter and olive oil are good fats and the dill gives vitamins and mineral. You can eat this alone or with a small piece of fish or a few shrimp. It’s really delicious. If you don’t like dill, use parsley or a combination of other herbs instead. It’ll be just a good, only different.

RECIPE: Pasta with Peas & Dill


  • 3 Teaspoons good butter

  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive oil

  • 2 Tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (1 Table spoon regular lemon juice)

  • 1/4 Teaspoon crushed red chili

  • 1 Cup chopped fresh dill

  • 2 Cups frozen peas, rinsed in water

  • 2 Tablespoons creme fraiche

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper

  • 8oz fresh pasta

  • Grated parmesan for serving


  • Warm butter, olive oil in a pan on low heat.

  • Add lemon juice and chili flakes.

  • Add dill, salt and pepper and gently warm for 1-2 minutes.

  • Add peas and warm for 2-3 minutes.

  • Add creme fraiche and mix to create sauce.

  • Add pasta, toss and cook with sauce for 1 minute.

  • Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese

Serves 2-3


Tuscan Pork with Plum Sauce: Not What You’d Expect


Take Home Lesson #2: Not What You’d Expect

Restaurant Version

Restaurant Version

When I think of plum sauce, my mind immediately goes to Asian cuisine. A delicious, viscous sauce with sweetness and umami to enhance many dishes.  So imagine my surprise to find pork in plum sauce on the menu at the first restaurant we dined in our first jet-lagged evening in Florence. My husband, who loves all things sweet, tangy and pork, made this is choice.  The dish arrived and it was not what we expected.  Perfectly cooked pieces of pork tenderloin (no doubt raised on the heady grassland of the Tuscan hillsides) gently cloaked with a light sauce of re-hydrated prunes to deglaze the pan. This was complemented by the subtle aromatic flavor of fresh bay leaves, something i had forgotten and came to embrace during our journey.  The sauce was not sweet and had a mellowed flavor from the prunes. A whole lotta umami and nothing I would have expected from my knowledge of Italian cuisine.

But that’s just the point. We know cultural cuisines in thin slices, stereotyped and collated to a few dishes that we then apply to whole countries. The real cuisine of any place is local, distinct and amazingly diverse. Villages and towns all around the world have signature dishes. Parma is known for its ham and cheese, Modena for balsamic vinegar and Alba for it’s truffles.  Travel books about Tuscany mention the bistecca Florentine and tripe as signature regional dishes, which they are. What they should also mention is the delicate, subtle ways that food is flavored with herbs and that you should stop at a local restaurant and try something that may end up being a delicious unexpected journey.


This pork dish was so delicious, I tried to recreate it. The trick was to mellow the sweetness of the dried prunes in rehydration.  I chose to soak them in a little dry white wine, which did the trick, although I’m not at all sure this is the actual method. My version had a little more sauce and rosemary as the herb (I have since acquired a very small bay laurel plant and am tending to it with great affection) . I soaked the prunes for 10 hours as a consequence of the work day, but I think 1-2 hours will be sufficient unless you have very dry prunes.  My husband loved it and has placed it in the list of ‘company dishes’, which those of you of a certain generation will understand.  The only real preparation involves soaking the prunes. Otherwise, the dish comes together in little more time than it takes to pan sautée a few pork chops. 

RECIPE: Tuscan Pork with Plum Sauce


  • 4 thick cut pork chops
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 8-10 prunes 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Soak prunes in white wine for a few hours (do this in advance)
  2. Remove pork chops from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (about an hour).
  3. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. 
  4. Heat oil in heavy pan.  Add the rosemary and brown the pork chop, then reduce temperature and cook through. Place on a plate and loosely cover to keep warm. 
  5. Slice each prune in thirds.  Add prunes and wine to the pan with the rosemary and deglaze. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove the rosemary and add any juices collected from the resting pork chops, and simmer another minute.
  6. Serve the pork chops with the sauce spooned over. 

Serves 4. 


Simplicity & Balance: Cacio e Pepe


Take Home Lesson #1 Simplicity & Balance

Italian Version

Italian Version

One of the many joys of traveling is re-introducing yourself to dishes you thought you knew, cooked by the people who originally made them. I am not debating good or bad, better or worse here; I’m thinking about how our own palates alter the interpretation of the dishes and the myriad of reasons this happens.

Pici cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is the simplest of dishes and thus, difficult to make perfectly. Classically a dish from Rome, where the cheese used is pecorino romano, the Tuscan version can use parmagiano regiano, as the city of Parma is not too far away, or pecorino toscano. The pasta type, pici, which a chubby cousin of spaghetti, hails from Siena, and is the perfect size and thickness to hold and balance the minimalist sauce. This must be cooked and served at once for the true deliciousness to be savored. If you are using fresh pici, and I’m trying to find the right die to make it, the first bite of pasta may seem a little undercooked, but the rest will be perfect as it continues to cook and absorb the sauce. Fresh pasta makes a big difference here, as its stickiness and starchiness helps create the creaminess of the sauce, as well as absorbing the flavors.

American Version

American Version

The pici cacio e pepe I had recently in Florence was masterfully done. I had a version in Houston the week before, which was also delicious, but my new experience begs me to reconsider our version-perhaps the added mound of cheese and and extra cracked pepper is gilding the lily. By comparison, the Italian version would seem totally naked, unadorned. But, this is how we in America view our pasta: under a sea of sauce and a mound of cheese. It’s what we expect when we order pasta, and this is perfectly fine. This may be derived from the Italian American experience as immigrants brought the food of their origins into a new world, adapting to what was available, the amount of time they had to cook, and changing it in the process. Many other factors also played roles, including big changes in how and why Americans eat.

We eat with our eyes first, so there has to be an adjustment in our view, a change in the expectation of what deliciousness looks like. Minimalist, modern, sophisticated food is delicious, and served on a beautiful plate the visual affect is stunning.

Until I figure out how to make pici, or talk the pasta man into making it for me, I’ll get really good fresh spaghetti from the farmers market, and remember to cook it very al dente as I mix the sauce.

I’m going to try to incorporate this lesson into my cooking and eating. Using great ingredients remains the key to all great food. To balance them in simple perfection, to create a harmonious dish is not easy, but well worth the practice. I will try to visualize food differently as well, looking not for embellishment, but simplicity, balance and sophistication. Less is more in many things, and this dish is a perfect example.

The recipe below is more of a process and you should change the amounts and combinations of cheese and pepper to your taste. It’s so quick to make, you can love several versions and make what you like. The key is the pan sauce, using just the right amount of water; so add it in small quantities for the perfect creaminess.

Most recipes for this add butter and oil, which are fine, but this is the simplest of versions.

Have a high sided pan to build the sauce and pasta. Get all the ingredients ready and have them at hand, as this goes quickly!

RECIPE: Pasta Cacio e Pepe


  • 8oz fresh pasta (spaghetti, or pici if you can get it)
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1-2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 to 1-1/2 C grated pecorino (or 1/2 each pecorino and paramgiano)


  1. Bring water to boil in a pot and add salt.
  2. Add pasta to the pot and cook per instructions to al dente.
  3. Warm the pan over low heat.
  4. Drain pasta, reserving 1 C pasta water.
  5. Put pasta into the pan and immediately add the cheese mixing quickly and adding small amounts of the reserved pasta water to create a creamy dressing. Add desired amount of pepper so that it has a sharpness and spice, but is not too hot, and mix again.
  6. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Serves 2-4.