34 - Shells with Bacon, Peas, and Ricotta

Anita Hoffman gave me the first Marcella Hazan cookbook in the early eighties, and this was an early favorite. I used the book so frequently and vigorously it just about fell apart.

Growing up, we didn't eat many varieties of pasta, but my mother did make a lunch meal of a dish she called pasta fazoul.
The ingredients were simple: dried pasta shells (pretty exotic in those days--at least to us), a can of Heinz vegetarian baked beans, and perhaps a can of tomato sauce. The beans would nestle in the shells--and make us very happy. I don’t think I ever made this myself, but I do know I loved it.

Perhaps the initial appeal of this recipe was the re-appearance of shells (and also peas--another childhood staple—though certainly not with pasta.) Ricotta cheese, of course, was not something we ate in Jersey City. And, speaking of not eating--although we did not keep kosher--and made all sort of dietary transgressions--we never cooked bacon or any pork dish in the house. This recipe might evoke some memories of those baked beans and shells, but indeed the two dishes are light years apart.

Still, the more recent iteration is also quick and easy:

Conchiglie con Bacon, Piselli, e Ricotta--Shells with bacon, peas, and ricotta

Cut 1/4 pound bacon into narrow strips. Cook over medium heat in a small sauté pan until it's very lightly browned--don't let it become crisp. Pour most of the fat out (keeping maybe two tablespoons.) A vegetarian option (if any vegetarians have read this far) would be to sauté onion, garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil or a mixture of olive oil and butter.

Add about 1/2 package of thawed frozen peas (between 5 and 8 ounces--more is probably better) to the pan and cook until warmed through or a pound of fresh peas (that would be a pound before shelling--which you'd cook before adding them to the pan.) Turn off the heat.

Bring 4-5 quarts water to a boil; add salt and a pound of pasta shells.

Put 1/4 pound ricotta into the serving bowl--and stir in 1 tablespoon of softened butter. When pasta is tender, but still firm, drain and add to the ricotta--stir it around 'til well coated.

Quickly heat up the bacon and peas (or mushrooms and peas) and pour the mixture over the pasta. Toss thoroughly. Add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese--a few grindings of pepper--toss again, and serve.

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