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When my brother left home for college, my mother, while proud of her first born’s academic accomplishment, was sad to see him go. (I, however, was glad to finally have a bedroom to myself.) From that first September until his return for Thanksgiving, a day never went by when mom didn’t say how much she missed him. So when he came home for the holiday weekend, that first night she prepared his favorite dish, pasta piselli, pasta with peas, a recipe that reflected her own Sicilian heritage.

The extreme pleasure he exhibited when she brought it to the table—and consumed multiple portions—is probably why she continued to prepare this pasta every time he returned home not only from college and graduate school but even after he entered the Foreign Service and came back from posts abroad. It was always the first course for his first night back.

My brother has been asking me to re-create this dish, so last night I decided to give it a go.I must admit, I came pretty close. My only disappointment was that I was unable to find ditali, the only pasta shape my mother would use for her pasta piselli.

Our Mother’s Pasta Piselli

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thin vertically
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 16-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1.5 cups frozen peas
8 ounces ditali or other small pasta
Pecorino-Romano

In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed sauce pan with a lid, place the olive oil and onion with a pinch of salt and cook uncovered over medium-low heat until the onions are softened and turn a pale gold.

The cooked onions

The cooked onions

Add the tomatoes with their juice, salt and pepper to taste, and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Add the peas, stir, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue to cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The peas should be well cooked, but not mushy.

The peas added to the sauce

The peas added to the sauce

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in well salted water, following package directions for al dente. Cook for one minute less than indicated. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan with the sauce. Cook for 1 minute, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce. If too thick add some of the reserved pasta water.

Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese.

Serve with additional cheese on the side.

Wine Pairing: Negro Amaro

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