Pastas with cream sauce are my weakness. I can’t get enough of them! As a dietitian-to-be, I’m in favor of cooking with real butter and cream — making a meal from scratch is a better tasting and more satisfying option than processed foods. I first got the idea for this dish when I was working as a server at a local restaurant because I was attracted to their use of an egg yolk as a thickening agent in pasta dishes. It added a really complex, rich element to dishes that normally rely on cream, butter, and cheese. And since whole egg logs in at about 70 calories total (yolk + white), it’s a great way to reduce the total caloric impact of a rich creamy dish. A quick look on the internet shows that both 1 Tablespoon of heavy cream and 1 egg yolk both have about 50 calories. And believe me, most creamy pasta sauces I make usually call for a lot more than 1 Tablespoon of cream!
So this dish started out as an experiment, a venture into uncharted territory (i.e., no recipe and playing with new techniques). And it turned out pretty well!
David gave it “B” grade the first time we ate it, in part because the pesto needed to be ramped up to compete with the strong flavor of whole wheat pasta. The recipe, as written below, nearly doubles the original quantity (from 4 Tablespoons pesto to 7). If you make this dish using white pasta, you may not need so much pesto. I also used half-and-half instead of heavy cream; I suspected the extra umph the sauce got from the eggs would warrant pairing down the creaminess of the cream.
This recipe would make for a great week night meal. Once you have all the ingredients assembled, the process goes very quickly. Almost too quickly, so be sure you have your mis en place set up before starting. I got in to a bit of trouble with this the first time around.
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup half-and-half
7 Tbsp. pesto (I make batches in the summer and freeze Tablespoon-size portions in ice cube trays for winter use) – otherwise store-bought pesto works here, too
1 egg yolk (from a large egg)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/8 lb. prosciutto, sliced thinly
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 lb. pasta (I used whole wheat spaghetti)
1) Put a large pot (2 quarts) of salted water to boil. When it reaches a roiling boil, add the pasta and cook for about 8 minutes, or until al dente (depending on the kind of pasta used). Add the frozen peas for the last minute of cooking. Drain and reserve 1 cup of cooking water. This can be used to thin or adjust the thickness of the sauce as needed.
2) Meanwhile, heat 1 Tablespoon butter in a large skill (large enough to hold the sauce and the cooked pasta). Once melted, add the pesto and warm until heated through, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Slowly add the half-and-half and simmer until bubbling.
3) While the pesto sauce thickens, heat the prosciutto in a pan (without added fat or oil – it has enough of its own and some will render into the pan). Cook until the prosciutto starts to crisp, about 4 or 5 minutes.
4) When the pasta is cooked and the prosciutto is crisp, add the egg yolk to the sauce and stir rapidly to incorporate. You don’t want the egg to cook separately and solidify (scrambled eggs in the sauce isn’t quite what we’re going for). Add 2 Tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese to the cream sauce. Mix to blend. Toss the sauce with the pasta and thin using the reserved cooking water, if needed. Finally, add the prosciutto slices. Serve immediately and garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese.