Creamy Shells and Peas

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I love peas. Like, a lot. So much that it’s a problem. The problem is that I don’t often measure when I add frozen peas to a recipe. I just pour until I think there’s enough, and often my definition of enough is too many peas for Jeff. It’s not that he doesn’t like peas. It’s that when I make something like chicken pot pie, if I’m not restrained I will add peas until it  becomes a chicken-and-pea pot pie. Jeff would prefer it remained chicken pot pie with some peas in it. It’s probably one of the biggest sources of dinner tension in our house. I try to rein it in most of the time, but if the recipe calls for peas I generally add the full amount and then some. But this recipe in its original form called for a pound, A POUND, of frozen peas. Fellow pea-enthusiasts, it is glorious!

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I think Jeff was slightly worried when he saw me upend a whole bag of frozen peas the first time I made this dish. I’m pretty sure he checked the recipe to see if I’d gone totally off the rails. The original version of this recipe comes from Yottam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and that man understands peas. He calls for a fancy pasta shape, conchigili, which is a kind of shell pasta. And shells are ideal for peas. You don’t have to spend a while chasing the peas around your plate, they nestle perfectly in the natural pocket of the pasta.  No one complained about the amount of peas in the dish.

Here’s what I did complain about: the garlic. It’s not that I don’t love garlic. I come from a family of garlic lovers. My mom decided my dad was a keeper when he ordered garlic steak on their first dinner date – because it meant she could order a garlicky appetizer. But the first time I made this the garlic was overpowering. It stung. And while I may have added too much, the problem was more the way I added it.

DSC_1801 DSC_1815Garlic gets stronger the more you mash it up, which means blended or pressed garlic will have more bite than finely chopped garlic. Onions and other aliums are actually the same way; the more you break down the cells, the more pungent it is. It doesn’t matter as much if the garlic is cooked, since the heat will soften the sharpness, but the garlic in this recipe is raw. Chopped garlic is ideal if it’s going to be served raw, and that’s what I ended up doing for this recipe. But if you read that and thought “not for me, too tedious” then just go with garlic powder. It’s a pretty good substitute and one I’ve been known to use when I’m just too lazy to peel and chop raw cloves.

It may also help to point out that if you buy pre-chopped walnuts (which are usually cheaper than the whole pieces), the garlic is the only chopping you have to do. That may be my favorite thing about this dish. It’s comforting and creamy, like any good pasta dish. But it’s also packed with vegetables, and I don’t have to spend time chopping to make that happen. Peas, what’s not to love?

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Creamy Shells and Peas
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • ½ lb pasta shells
  • 1 lb frozen peas
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt, divided
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp red chile flakes
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 4 oz feta, crumbled
Instructions
  1. BOIL a large pot of water, and add the shells when it comes to a boil. Cook according to package directions (generally 10-12 minutes to cook).
  2. MIX the yogurt, chopped garlic, and 1 tsp kosher salt in a bowl and set it aside.
  3. COMBINE the oil, chile flake, and chopped walnuts in a pan and set it over a medium heat. Cook for 2-4 minutes, until the nuts are lightly toasted. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into a bowl to cool. Wash the spinach and place it in a bowl large enough to toss the pasta in. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon of kosher salt to season the spinach.
  4. ADD the peas to the pasta pot when the shells have 1-2 minutes left of cooking time. When the shells are cooked, drain the pasta and peas and then pour the still-hot shells on the spinach. Let it sit for 5-8 minutes to wilt the spinach.
  5. TOSS the shells, peas, and spinach with the yogurt and feta until well combined. You can either toss in the walnuts and chile oil with the pasta or serve it on the side so people can add however much they want.

    Serve this dish warm. If you have leftovers, it's easiest to toss everything together before putting it in the fridge. This should keep for up to a week in the fridge.
Notes
-If you only have greek yogurt, scale it back to 1½ cups and add ½ cup of milk to thin it out.
-If your chile flakes are fresh, 1 tsp is plenty but if they've lost some of their fire, or you want more heat, add the full 2 tsp.
-If you don't like the taste of raw garlic, you can also cook the garlic in the chile oil while toasting the walnuts. Raw garlic problem solved.

 

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