Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

One-Pot Pasta and Peas

By Lan Lam Published

In this version of Italy’s pasta e piselli, simmering ditalini in a broth flavored with pancetta and Pecorino Romano results in a silky, substantial soup.

The earliest pasta dishes weren’t the perfectly sauced plates that are common today. Rather, they were humble, brothy soups made by resourceful home cooks who combined water and noodle scraps with dried legumes, stale bread, bits of meat, and whatever else was on hand. According to Danielle Callegari, a historian of Italian food at Dartmouth College, a family would make a batch and keep the pot warm on the stove, enhancing it with more odds and ends as the days passed. It was “a dish of convenience, unquestionably,” Callegari said.

Pasta e fagioli and pasta e ceci are two examples of these soups, but I homed in on pasta e piselli, a less familiar style that trades the beans and chickpeas for peas. Like these other pasta and legume soups, the dish has evolved over the years to be a more carefully constructed preparation, made with specific ingredients instead of leftovers. It can take different forms—some versions have lost the liquid almost entirely, others have come to include tomatoes—but most modern versions feature sweet peas and small pasta, such as ditalini or tubetti, that won’t overshadow the diminutive legumes. My favorite rendition is a little more substantial than the earliest soupy iterations, featuring a rich, savory broth bulked up with plenty of tender pasta and sweet peas.

It came as no surprise to me that the broth is a make-or-break component—too subtle and the dish will be bland, too robust and the delicate sweetness of the peas will be lost. After a couple rounds of testing, I decided to build the broth on a base of onion and pancetta. Briefly sautéing these ingredients created a flavorful foundation, but when I added 5 cups of water, I found that the resulting broth tasted flat. The fix, fortunately, was simple: I replaced half the water with chicken broth. The chicken broth boosted the sweet, mellow taste of the onion as well as the porkiness of the pancetta but was still subtle enough to let the peas shine.

Next I worked on how much pasta to stir in to give the dish the right amount of bulk. I landed on 11/2 cups of ditalini, which in 8 to 10 minutes of cooking released starches that lent ample body to the broth, developing the dish’s rich, silky texture. Meanwhile, the savory broth also flavored the pasta.

Once the pasta was al dente, it was time to add the peas. Because the season for fresh peas is fleeting—and they lose sweetness from the moment they’re harvested—using frozen peas was a much better bet. I chose petite peas, which we’ve found taste even sweeter than larger peas. Peas of any kind can overcook in a flash, becoming starchy and mushy. To make sure that they retained their firmness and vibrant color, I stirred them frozen into the hot broth and immediately took the pot off the heat. The peas heated through right away, with nary a chance of turning Army green or overcooking.

I now had a solid rendition of pasta e piselli, but I wanted to add a little more depth and brightness. First, I swapped out the more milky and savory Parmesan that usually finishes the soup for Pecorino Romano. Made with sheep’s milk, Pecorino brings a sharpness to the broth that enhances the sweetness of the peas. Then, I minced fresh parsley and mint and stirred in the herbs off the heat, giving my soup a boost of freshness. At the table, more Pecorino Romano and a drizzle of olive oil punched up the flavors even more.

Simple but satisfying and quick to throw together, pasta e piselli might just be the gold standard of one-pot cooking.

Recipe Pasta e Piselli (Pasta and Peas)

In this version of Italy’s pasta e piselli, simmering ditalini in a broth flavored with pancetta and Pecorino Romano results in a silky, substantial soup.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.