When it comes to Buttermilk, I can come up with three recipes that require it: Waffles, Fried Chicken and Biscuits. Buttermilk comes in quarts. The only recipe of the three that requires that much Buttermilk is perhaps the chicken marinade which is used to tenderize the meat. Unless you’re cooking in quantity, you’ll will end up with leftover Buttermilk. Since I am from the waste-not-want-not school of life, I was very pleased to see this recipe pop up on the pages of Bon Appetit. Not only did it use my leftover Buttermilk, it incorporates one of my favorite of all pastas, Orecchiette, and Sugar Snap Peas that just made their first appearance at our farm stand. (For more Orecchiette recipes, see the links below this one.)
The dish is inspired by a restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee called Rolf and Daughters (700 Taylor St. Nashville TN 37208 Tel: 615.866.9897). The dish is a take on one their Chef, Philip Krajeck, makes using pasta in a whey and butter sauce. Bon Appetit substituted Buttermilk for the whey. It gives the sauce an acidity that gives a great contrast to the butter-y and cheese-y richness of the dish. I also added a cup of heavy cream to up the creaminess factor. Before we get to the recipe, a brief look at Buttermilk.
Traditional Buttermilk was the milky liquid left behind after churning butter made from cultured cream. The milk was allowed to ‘ferment’ to develop a thicker body and tangy flavor. It was often drunk all by itself and still is in warm climates around the world from the Balkans, to Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and much close to home in Nicaragua and our own deep South. These are all areas where milk quickly sours when it’s not refrigerated. But colder climates also drink buttermilk. In countries from Scandinavia to Ireland to Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, cultured buttermilk is made from cow’s milk that’s fermented to acquire its intensely sour taste. This buttermilk is made by adding two species of bacteria—Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Unfortunately, most American buttermilk is no longer drinkable and what remains requires that elusive “acquired taste’ label. However, buttermilk makes a great marinade for chicken and pork as its lactic acid helps tenderize the meat, retain moisture and is a great conduit for flavors that permeate the meat.
While Buttermilk anchors the dish, there’s a lot to like about the crunch of toasted pistachios, the sweetness of the peas and leeks, the tiny jolt of heat from the red pepper flakes and the scent of mint fresh from the garden. Then there’s the lovely tang of Parmesan cheese blending with the buttermilk sauce. And finally the pure pleasure of the Orecchiete, the perfect vessel for holding the sauce. This recipe is for four servings. You can easily halve it but you’ll still be left with leftover Buttermilk.
Orecchiette with Buttermilk, Peas and Pistachios
A meatless meal that uses Buttermilk for tang, Peas for sweetness and Pistachios for crunch
- ¼ cup pistachios
- 3 cups dry orecchiette
- Kosher salt
- 12 oz. peas (trimmed sugar snap peas and frozen peas)
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 small bunch mint, divided
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 oz. Parmesan, finely grated, plus more for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 350°. Toast pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 5–8 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely crush with a measuring cup or glass.
- Step 2 Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water 6 minutes, then add peas and cook until pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes more.
- Step 3 Meanwhile, heat butter and 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium heavy pot over medium. Cook leeks, garlic, red pepper flakes, and 3 mint sprigs, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft but not browned, 6–8 minutes
- Step 4 season with salt. Add buttermilk
- Step 5 bring to a simmer. Pluck out mint
- Step 6 discard.
- Step 7 Using a slotted spoon, transfer pasta and peas to leek mixture. Add 3 oz. Parmesan
- Step 8 cook, stirring vigorously and adding the heavy cream, until the sauce is creamy and coats pasta, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat
- Step 9 add lemon juice. Pull leaves from remaining mint sprigs. Divide pasta among bowls. Top with pistachios, mint leaves and Parmesan
- Step 10 drizzle with oil.
Here are some other Orecchiette recipes for your dining pleasure…