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Peas with Pancetta, Mint and Ricotta Salata

Fresh English peas, full of natural sugars, are a specialty of spring. This simple salad showcases them with fried pancetta, aromatic mint and ricotta salata, juxtaposing sweet and salty flavors without overpowering the peas. Look for young, tender pods that are plump with whole peas that will need only brief cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 5 lb. English peas, shelled 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 2 thin slices pancetta, chopped 
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 tsp. raspberry vinegar 
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper 
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint, plus sprigs for garnish 
  • 1/4 lb. ricotta salata cheese, crumbled  

Directions:

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and 1 tsp. of the salt and cook until the peas are barely tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, place under cold running water until cool and drain again. Set aside.

In a fry pan over medium heat, cook the pancetta, stirring, until lightly crisped, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, pepper and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Add the peas, pancetta and chopped mint and stir to coat. Stir in half of the cheese.

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining cheese and the mint sprigs. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch, by Georgeanne Brennan, Elinor Klivans, Jordan Mackay and Charles Pierce (Oxmoor House, 2007).