Pasta with labneh and peas is a simple dish that comes together in the time it takes the pasta to cook, one of my favorite meals to make when I’m alone or whenever I need a fast but very delicious dinner. Just be sure to cook the labneh sauce at low temperatures to avoid curdling, which yogurt always wants to do when it’s overheated.
When I was living and working in Chicago with my sister, at the end of a long workday + workout + errands, I wanted a fast but delicious meal at home. We had purchased a condo together and the full impact of that hit us when we realized what “house poor” means: all funds go to the finances of the condo. Dining out, my favorite hobby, was relegated to the special occasion.
We were still functioning on the eat-whatever-you-want-and-never-gain-pounds metabolism, so pasta seemed like the most delicious yet economical choice for dinner a good three nights a week (ignorance was bliss!!).
There was a cookbook we used that taught me a lot about the flexibility of making pasta for dinner, called While the Pasta Cooks. No idea when or how the book came to the Abood sister library. (We could ask Peg right now and she would have clear details: what the circumstance of acquisition were, the year, the date, the event, and what she or someone else in the room was wearing at the time.)
The book’s concept was that in the precious ten minutes while the pasta cooks, a whole world of pasta sauces can be made, often with what’s already stocked in the fridge and pantry. Some of the sauces were uncooked, like summer tomatoes and basil warmed by the hot pasta and a shower of parmesan.
It was from this book, and a conversation I had at a party once a long time ago with an Italian woman who spoke of the fettucine alfredo she’d made with just cream and parmesan for her mother that evening (I was wearing black leggings and an oversized fisherman knit sweater, 1991), that pasta and sauce work together to form flavor and body swiftly, and with ease.
One of those house-poor pasta nights, I had no cream, no milk even, and nothing in the way of butter (extreme, right?). Yet I was on a mission to make the alfredo sauce, which had become such a huge favorite that we had served it, along with oven fried chicken, for my cousin Teresa’s bridal shower luncheon. For that special occasion, we had Sitto write out a bunch of her Lebanese recipes, photocopied them on yellow paper, tied them up with a purple satin ribbon, and gifted our cookbook to all of the cousins.
Wouldn’t you know that whenever I’ve looked at that little booklet on the shelf over the years, I’ve craved nothing so much as the creamy pasta with peas we served that beautiful bridal shower day?
So the evening years later when I wanted that pasta and nothing else, I turned to a little container of labneh. For pasta?, I wondered. Recognize too that this was a long time ago, long before I was in a habit of taking any and every Lebanese ingredient and having at its many possibilities on a regular basis. But While the Pasta Cooks had taught me lotta kitchen courage.
I gave it a whirl. First batch was a mess. Labneh, yogurt of any kind, curdles when it gets too warm. I went down another path taught by my little book, the cold sauce on hot pasta. It was okay, but really needed more of a melding of flavors with garlic and a gentle melting in a pan to get there. Once that happened, at low temperatures and using barely cooked fresh summer peas (or the petite spring peas frozen, those are good too), I was all the way THERE, but with a twist of labneh tang that I welcomed.
Pasta with labneh and peas became my quiet little pleasure over many years, a quick meal I love to make when I’m by myself with wedges of oil-toasted bread. The carby meal feels naughty, which of course makes it oh so nice.
Pasta with Labneh and Peas
Take care to keep temperatures low under the labneh sauce, as yogurt wants to curdle when it's overheated. Feel free to use lower-fat labneh, knowing the sauce won't have quite the same luxurious texture or flavor. Serve this pasta right away once the sauce and pasta are mixed.
- 1 pound fettuccine
- 1 cup fresh peas
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic or 1 tablespoon toum
- 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk labneh
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped or cut in chiffonade
In a large pot, bring several quarts of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook accordingly, until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.
While the pasta cooks, briefly poach the peas in another smaller pot of hot water, about 2 minutes. Drain immediately and rinse with cool water to stop the peas from cooking further.
In a small frying pan or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the stock and bring just to a simmer, then remove from the heat.
Let the stock mixture cool for about 5 minutes. Over low heat, whisk in the labneh and parmesan, taste and season with salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the sauce is heated through, about 3 minutes, taking care not to heat beyond low. Remove from the heat.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Let the pasta cool for a few minutes so it's not hot-hot when the sauce is added, then stir in the labneh sauce. Stir in the peas, or plate the pasta and top each serving with peas and some chopped mint. Serve immediately.