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Pasta with Shiitake Mushrooms, Ham and Peas

You can really sauté any vegetables — even just onion, carrot and celery — but it helps to include something powerful for flavor (wild mushrooms, anchovies, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, ham, smoked turkey, etc.). I just happen to like this combination.

Makes 1 serving

Equipment: 4- to 6-quart pot, 8-inch skillet, 8-inch knife, cutting board, wooden spoon

1 slice ham, 1/4-inch thick Virginia ham if possible

5 or 6 shiitake mushrooms

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 cups dry pasta (short shapes like penne, shells, and farfalle work well)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

1/2 cup frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a 4- to 6-quart pot with water and bring to a boil.

While the water is heating, prepare the ingredients: Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel and remove the stems. Slice the ham and shiitake mushrooms into 1/4-slices. Chop the garlic roughly.

When the water is at a boil, add enough salt to make the water taste briny. Add the pasta and stir with a wooden spoon to keep from sticking on the bottom. Keep the water at a boil, turning the heat down a little if the water threatens to boil over.

Place the oil in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the ham, mushrooms and a little salt. Sauté until the mushrooms release their moisture and begin to dry and the ham starts to brown on the edges. Add the cream, if using, and lower the heat while you reduce the cream a little. Add the peas; the heat will thaw them quickly.

Test the pasta for doneness: Fish one piece out with your slotted spoon and bite down. It will have just a bit of firmness left at the center when it's ready. Drain. Toss with the remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you didn't use cream, you could add a bit of olive oil to finish the dish.

Simple Tomato Sauce

You can use this instead of a cream sauce — just prepare your ham and vegetables and add the sauce at the end.

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, cut in half

28-ounced can diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

Before you start the pasta, melt the butter in a 10-inch pan with some salt. Add onion, cut side down. Add tomatoes and sugar.

Simmer for 45 minutes while you prepare the rest of your meal, stirring occasionally and adding water if the pan becomes dry. Discard the onion, use as much as sauce as you like, and remember to freeze the rest.

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