As mild temperatures start to return, celebrate spring with a delicious pasta dinner. Minced lamb and sweet peas are tossed with orecchiette pasta, topped with vibrant green, minty pea pesto and sprinkled with grated lemon zest that gives a bright and refreshing burst of springtime flavors to your evening meal.
Spring has arrived and that means it’s time to try some new recipes to celebrate the change of season. Lamb is one meat that is typically enjoyed during spring celebrations in many cultures around the world. Lamb chops or a leg of lamb, grilled or roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, and often served with mint sauce or jelly, are classic springtime meals. I tend to reserve the lamb chops for a special occasion and leg of lamb is too large when I’m only cooking for my husband and myself. Ground lamb, on the other hand, is perfect when I’m preparing dishes such as lamb burgers, an Italian lamb lasagna, lamb meatballs and now used in this simple new recipe that celebrates the arrival of spring. Not only does the pasta dish feature lamb, it highlights one of the first spring vegetables we see in our markets, sweet English peas.
For this pasta recipe, pea and mint pesto is a quick and easy to prepare condiment that provides a touch of fresh herbal and sweet flavors that balance the richness of the savory minced lamb. I believe the creamy pea pesto, infused with mint, garlic, olive oil, cheese and pine nuts, is delicious whether made using frozen peas as I did or with fresh sweet peas, if you are lucky enough to find them. I used orecchiette, the little “ear” shaped pasta, which is wonderful for capturing bits of lamb and peas in each bite but you can use whatever pasta you prefer.
Spring Pea And Lamb Pasta With Mint Pea Pesto
Mint Pea Pesto
- 2 c. peas, blanched (I used frozen)
- 1/4 c. loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese, Parmesan may be substituted
- a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Add the peas, mint, garlic, pine nuts, cheese and a generous pinch of salt and pepper to a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the oil and pulse until well combined and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. This pesto is much thicker than traditional pesto recipes but if you think the pesto is too thick, thin with a teaspoon of water and mix again. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Any pesto that you don’t use, can easily be frozen.
Pea and Lamb Pasta
Serves 4, adjust the recipe according
- 2/3 c. orecchiette pasta per person
- 2 – 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- lemon zest from 1 lemon, divided
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 c. white wine
- 1/4 c. reserved pasta water, more if necessary (I used chicken stock)
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 c. peas, blanched (I used frozen)
- 2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Push the onions to the side and add the ground lamb, garlic, half of lemon zest, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook, making sure to break the meat up with a wooden spoon until it is nicely browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta water. Add the drained pasta, 1/4 c. of the reserved pasta water, the butter and a heaping tablespoon of pesto to the lamb mixture. Mix well and cook about 2 minutes until the sauce coats the pasta. Taste for any additional seasoning that might be needed. If the pasta appears dry, gradually add a little more reserved pasta water until you reach the desired consistency. Stir in the peas and warm through. Divide the pasta among the serving bowls and top with a dollop of pesto, garnish with some mint and lemon zest, then serve.
This delicious pasta highlights classic ingredients we think of with the arrival of spring. The minty pea pesto is one that I’ll be preparing often and will be sure to keep a container in my freezer. The savory lamb, brightened up with mint and a bit of fresh lemon, tossed with orecchiette pasta and sweet peas then topped with a dollop of the delicious vibrant green pesto was a real hit with my husband, perhaps second only to grilled lamb chops with mint jelly, is a dinner I know he will be requesting often as he keeps raving about how good it is.