“Betsy’s Peas and Pasta”
~ This healthy Pasta with Peas and Bacon recipe is quick (20 minutes!), easy, and can even be partially made ahead! Bursting with the flavors of smoky bacon, sweet baby peas, bright lemon, and rich parmesan … plus fresh basil and just a bit of garlic! If I had to choose one, all-time, any-season, family-favorite weeknight dinner – this would have to be it! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Includes Make-Ahead Steps •
As food bloggers, it’s basically our job to discover new family-favorite recipes (and then share them with you, of course!). To test and retest, taste and perfect until we’re head-over-heels in love with each recipe.
I have several giant binders and 6 bulging notebooks full of “favorites” (and almost-favorites waiting to be perfected).
So, it’s pretty tough to crown any single recipe as “THE ONE.”
But over time, this Pasta with Peas and Bacon recipe has elbowed its way to the title. It truly is THE ONE. The one that we always, always come back to. That we default to when we need a win and just can’t conjure up one more ounce of creativity. No matter the season, no matter our moods.
This pasta never lets us down – even as I’ve tinkered with it endlessly, little tweak by little tweak, to make it lighter, healthier. We still love it just as much – actually, even more so, since we can now tuck into our favorite dinner without one twinge of guilt!
If I had to come up with just one reason that we adore this recipe so much, I’d probably say simply, “Because it’s sooooo delicious.” Well, duh. I mean, that’s obvious (but true). There’s so much else to love in this easy Pasta with Peas recipe, though:
- It’s quick and easy enough for busy weeknights, ready in under 30 minutes. That’s always a good thing.
- And, you can even prep a lot of it ahead of time! A very good thing.
- Plus, with lots of peas already in it, it’s pretty much a meal-in-one, so you don’t have to fuss with extra side dishes. (Added bonus: you don’t even have to cook the peas separately – either toss them in with the pasta during the last couple minutes of cooking, or just drain the boiling pasta water over top of them so they’re perfectly al dente, right along with your pasta!)
- It’s also nutritious. Featuring whole wheat pasta, lean turkey bacon, and all those peas, it’s lighter and leaner … and yet I can absolutely vouch for the fact that, even with all the healthy upgrades, my family is still madly in love with it!
- It’s easy to keep most of these ingredients on hand (especially if you’re like me and have a pot of basil growing at-the-ready year ’round). Even the bacon and the lemon should easily keep in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks. Dinner can be ready in a pinch!
- And yes … most important of all, it really is so delicious! A symphony of simple flavors that combine perfectly for big, big impact with little effort. Crispy, smoky bacon and a touch of garlic oil mingle beautifully with the clean, fresh tang of lemon juice and the sweetness of tender baby peas. Plus a generous sprinkling of basil and parmesan. *Sigh* … perfect!
The Legend of Our Pasta with Peas and Bacon (AKA Betsy’s Peas and Pasta)
My family’s love affair with this pasta recipe dates back to a beach vacation when Amy and Ty were still tiny – just three sweet little years old.
Along with 50-some other members of Scott’s family, we descended upon Emerald Isle, North Carolina, for the every-other-year beach blowout that his huge clan has devotedly planned for decades.
These people know how to have FUN! Not just “fun” with a capital F, but with a capital U and N, too. Five or six giant beach houses, bursting with family … and not one argument or squabble to be heard. Just laughter and endless, chatty lip-flapping.
Traditionally, each house hosts dinner one night, claiming a theme and feeding the hungry masses after a hard day of … ummmmmm … relaxing on the beach.
This particular year, we were bunking with two of my husband’s cousins and their wives (and of course, a constantly-moving, giggling, salty-suncreeny-chloriney jumble of all our kiddos). It was determined that our household would stake our claim to hosting “pasta night.”
When our day came, we pawned all the kiddos off on willing grammies and aunties, opened a bottle of wine (or, maybe it was two), and the six of us “cousins” had the most wonderful, kid-free, adults-only, sanity-restoring afternoon of cooking. You might not consider prepping dinner for 50 people sanity-restoring, but as a young mom of twins, it was exactly what I needed! We had more fun than a pasta dinner should rightfully create. The legend of that night lives on fondly in my memory.
And this pasta has become a legend in its own right. At our house, we affectionately call this “Betsy’s Peas and Pasta” – in honor of our energetic, sweet cousin’s wife who originally shared her recipe as one of the stand-out superstars on our pasta buffet that night.
To be honest, I don’t care a bit what you call this, though … just make it. Make it soon, and make it often. Trust me – you’ll want to!
How Easily It All Comes Together
The “sauce” for our Pasta with Peas is really nothing more than a briefly infused, garlicky olive oil, brightened with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and then seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Big flavor in mere minutes!
You can make the lemony-garlic oil ahead of time, or simply whisk it together right in the bottom of your serving bowl, before adding in the other ingredients.
From there, you pile hot peas and pasta, crispy bits of bacon, parmesan and fresh basil into the bowl, and just stir it all together.
It’s seriously that easy!
How We Lightened Up a Favorite
The first healthification swap was a no-brainer: we pretty much always use whole-grain pasta to amp up the fiber and nutrition of our recipes.
Next, I turned to the issue of the fat in the original recipe.
With her Italian ancestry, Betsy’s most authentic version of this recipe calls for prosciutto. But she offered an American-ized swap of bacon – a lucky thing when you’re shopping at a beach-town grocery store, endeavoring to create an affordable meal for 50 of your nearest and dearest!
Over the years, I’ve tested a pretty wide variety of bacons. Switching from regular, full-fat bacon to leaner, lower-fat, center-cut bacon was a good move. But, just as with our Cheesy BLT Pierogi Skillet Dinner, we were delighted to find that turkey bacon, which is even leaner still, also works great.
One more bacon dilemma, though: Betsy’s original recipe called for maintaining the rendered grease from the cooked bacon as part of the “sauce.”
It won’t surprise you that we eliminated that reserved bacon fat. Little by little, over time, I decreased it until we actually found that we didn’t need it at all. And I was even able to save a few more calories by also decreasing the olive oil a bit. The “sauce” is still delicious – light and flavorful but not heavy or greasy – and the final dish is still full of plenty of salty, smoky, bacon-y flavor.
As much as we adored Betsy’s original recipe (and those special memories interwoven with the family legend), all the little changes I’ve made over the years have ended up in a recipe we love every bit as much … and can feel so guilt-free about enjoying OFTEN!
Because trust me, once you’re tried this … you’ll be making it again and again!
- 12 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
- 2 cups frozen baby peas (about 10 ounces)
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water
- 8 slices turkey bacon (14-15g each), diced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and oil.
- To cook peas, either add them to the pasta pot in the final 1 minute of pasta cooking time, or simply place them in the bottom of the colander through which you'll pour out the boiling pasta water to drain the pasta after cooking (the peas will heat through perfectly from the boiling pasta water draining over them).
- Reserve about ½ cup pasta cooking water prior to draining the pasta.
- Drain pasta and set pasta and peas aside briefly, keeping them warm.
- Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, stirring frequently, about 5-10 minutes. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.
- Add olive oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook garlic in the olive oil for about 30-60 seconds, stirring constantly so it doesn't burn, just until the garlic is softened and fragrant. Immediately remove from heat and pour the garlic-oil into a large serving bowl.
- Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to the garlic-oil and whisk to thoroughly combine.
- Add hot pasta and peas to the lemon-garlic-oil mixture and stir thoroughly.
- Add reserved bacon, parmesan cheese, and basil to the pasta mixture, and stir again.
- Loosen if needed with reserved pasta cooking water. (Sometimes we don't need this at all, but sometimes a little pasta cooking water helps to loosen the consistency perfectly.)
Bacon, Salt, and Draining the Fat - As with the bacon in our Cheesy BLT Pierogi Skillet Dinner, I've tested this recipe with center-cut bacon (lower in fat than regular bacon), and also with turkey bacon as this recipe specifies (including a number of different brands and even thick-cut, uncured turkey bacon). They all work great, so choose whichever you prefer, but note that thicker-cut slices may weigh more than the typical 14-15 grams each, in which case you won't need to use as many slices. Also, note that the sodium in various brands and varieties can vary pretty widely, so adjust the kosher salt in this recipe accordingly if needed, tasting your pasta at the end before serving. I've found that the specified ¾ teaspoon should be an amount that works well nearly across the board, but feel free to make adjustments based on the saltiness of your bacon. Also, if you choose turkey bacon as we've suggested, there should be no rendered fat to drain from the pan. However, if you opt for center-cut or fattier bacon, drain the bacon grease before continuing with the recipe.
Make-ahead options: You can dice the bacon, juice the lemon, and mince your garlic ahead of time, storing each separately in the fridge until you're ready to cook. Or, you can go even further and actually cook your bacon (step 5), and then also cook your garlic oil (step 6), whisking it together with the lemon juice, salt and pepper to make the "sauce" (step 7). Store the cooked bacon and the completed "sauce" separately in the refrigerator for up to a day before finishing the recipe.