Every so often, I encounter a recipe that makes me want to forgo the usual niceties of a post – the introduction, the story, the conclusion, the delicate foreplay – because that would only slow you down, when what you should really do is grab your shoes and make a list and run to the grocery store and throw some money at the cashier and run back home and make this immediately and I mean it, go, right now, DO IT.
One such recipe is Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile, from the stunning book Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Even June is all over it.
The only problem is that I made it for a late dinner a few nights ago, when the sun was already well into setting – which is really and truly very late, here in my northern city – and it was too dark to take a picture. Today I tried to take a picture of the photograph in the cookbook, but that didn’t pan out either.
(Yeah, yeah, my child owns a pair of elastic-waist jeggings. In my defense, they were hand-me-downs.)
In any case, you can picture it yourself. First, you zizz some Greek yogurt, olive oil, peas, and garlic in a food processor until the mixture is an even shade of pale green. Then you heat a pot of water and boil some pasta in it, and while that’s going, you warm some pine nuts and chile flakes in a skillet filmed with olive oil until the nuts are golden and the oil is red, and you also heat some more peas in a little bowl of water scooped from the pasta pot. When the pasta is ready, you drain it and fold it together with the yogurt sauce, the now-warm peas, some torn basil leaves, and some crumbled feta. The hot pasta heats and loosens the sauce, and the overall effect is creamy but not heavy in the least, bright where you hit a basil leaf or a pea, salty where you hit a lump of feta. You scoop it into a bowl, spoon over some pine nuts and the chile oil, which brings that kind of low, creeping heat that makes your lips tingle, and as I scraped my bowl and went back to the kitchen for seconds, I decided it was the best thing I’ve made in a long, long time. (The best savory thing, I should clarify. Nothing compares to cake. Who do you think I am?)
Yesterday afternoon, June and I went to our friend Lecia’s house for a visit and an early dinner, and while we were sitting around on the floor, talking and catching up and watching June torment the family cats, Lecia mentioned that, the previous night, she’d made what she thought might be the best pasta she’d ever had.
“It has yogurt, and peas. I think you’d like it,” she said. “Have you heard of the book Jerusalem?” (!!!)
I told you so.
The original version of this recipe calls for conchiglie, or shell-shaped pasta, but you could use any small pasta shape you like: orecchiette, penne, farfalle, and so on.
If you have some exotic type of dried chile, like Urfa chile, Aleppo chile, or Kirmizi biber, you lucky lucky dog, this is a great place to use it. If not, you can use regular red pepper flakes. I happened to have some Aleppo chile, and though it was ground, not in flakes, and probably a few years old, it worked beautifully. Oh, and if you’re worried about the amount of heat, consider starting with a little less of the chile than what is called for – or just don’t put much chile oil on your pasta.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, 6 tablespoons (90 ml) of the olive oil, the garlic, and 2/3 cup (100 g) of the peas. Process to a uniform pale green sauce, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it until tastes like pleasantly salty seawater. Add the pasta, and cook until it is al dente. While the pasta cooks, warm the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and chile flakes, and cook for 4 minutes, or until the pine nuts are golden and the oil is deep red. Also, warm the remaining peas in some boiling water (you could scoop out a bit of the pasta water for this); then drain.
Drain the cooked pasta into a colander, and shake it well to get rid of excess water that may have settled into the pasta’s crevices. Add the pasta gradually to the yogurt sauce; adding it all at once may cause the yogurt to separate. Add the warm peas, the basil, feta, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss gently. Serve immediately, with pine nuts and chile oil spooned over each serving.
Yield: 6 servings