If you’ve got leftover ham, this pasta is for you. The creamy sauce and richness of the ham are balanced by peas and lemon zest. It makes a great early spring dinner. And the best part? It only takes about 30 minutes to make. Hello, easy weeknight meal!
- Onion. Finely chop a large onion or use about a half cup of pre-cut onion.
- Garlic. Mince a few garlic cloves. I usually use three or four large cloves. Chop them finely with a knife, use a garlic press, or run it on a fine grater. Remember: the smaller you chop the garlic, the more garlic flavor in the sauce. If you use jarred garlic, use about one and a half teaspoons.
- Black Pepper. Freshly ground black pepper plays an important role in this dish. It adds a mild heat that balances the salty ham nicely.
- Lemon Zest. You’ll need a full tablespoon of lemon zest. (That’s usually the zest of one large lemon or two small lemons.) Don’t skip the zest, it adds a lovely flavor and balances the richness of the sauce.
- Half and Half. The creamy part of this pasta comes from half and half. (A mixture of half whole milk and half cream.) If you’d rather use milk, you’ll need to thicken the sauce. Whisk one tablespoon of cornstarch with one tablespoon of milk. Add it to the sauce and bring to a boil. If the sauce doesn’t reach a boil, it won’t thicken.
- Frozen Peas. There’s no need to thaw the peas before stirring them into the sauce. The heat from the sauce is enough to warm them. If you don’t like peas, use spinach or broccoli.
- Ham. Cube leftover ham into bite-size pieces. If you don’t have leftover ham, cut up a small ham steak.
- Parmesan Cheese. Freshly grated parmesan cheese is my preference for this pasta but I don’t always have it in the house. I’ve made this many times with pre-grated parm and it works great. So use whatever you’ve got!
You’ll notice that there’s no set amount of salt used in the sauce. That’s because ham and parmesan cheese are salty. After tossing the pasta with the sauce, taste it. If it needs salt, add it to taste.
How to Make Creamy Lemon Pasta with Ham.
Prep Your Ingredients.
The sauce cooks while the pasta boil. So you’ll want all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before starting the pasta.
Cook the Pasta.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, salt generously. You want about one tablespoon of salt for four quarts of water. Add the pasta and cook until tender.
Make the Sauce.
You can start the sauce as you wait for the water to come to a boil or when you start the pasta. It’s up to you. After adding the cream, reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer gently. Give it an occasional stir.
Reserve Pasta Water.
Before you drain the cooked pasta, reserve about a half-cup of pasta cooking liquid. Use this to thin the sauce if it seems thick.
Sauce the Pasta and Give it a Taste.
Toss the drained pasta with the parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Add the sauce and stir. If the sauce looks thick, add a splash of pasta cooking water. Now, taste the pasta. If you think it needs more salt, pepper, or cheese, add it now.
Creamy Lemon Pasta with Ham and Peas
- 1 pound campanelle or other short pasta
- salt, for the pasta water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, mined
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups half and half
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup) ham, cubed
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Zest of one lemon, about one tablespoon
- ½ cup grated parmesan (about 2 ounces)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Cook one pound of pasta, stirring occasionally, until tender (al dente).
While pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. Add onions, cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and black pepper. Cook an additional minute. Reduce heat to low. Add half and half, ham, and peas. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.
Reserve about a half cup of pasta cooking liquid. Drain pasta and return it to the pot. Add the parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Stir to cook. Toss with the sauce. Cover the pot and let pasta sit for 5 minutes. Remove lid. Stir. If sauce is thick, add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste.