Espagueti verde is a Mexican green pasta dish that combines roasted poblano peppers, Mexican crema and a handful of additions into a bright, creamy sauce, It's easy to make and perfect as a side to many mains or make it a meatless meal in itself.
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Pasta is one of our go-tos for a quick and easy meal on busy nights. I admit, we often fall back on just a short list of favorites for those nights, with maybe the odd variation depending on the season (and I bet I'm far from alone there).
Every now and then I try to expand our horizons a bit more, and often it results in adding in a few more favorites. This pasta with creamy poblano sauce is great to add into the rotation for something that bit different, but also tasty and easy.
What are poblano peppers?
Poblano peppers are a relatively mild chili pepper from Puebla in central Mexico. In fact people from Puebla are called poblanos/poblanas. The peppers look a bit like a larger, darker green jalapeño with a pointed tip and wider towards the top.
Spice-wise, they are on the lower end, generally somewhere between a banana pepper and a jalapeño. Though as with all chilis, you can get some that are unusually hot for their type. They typically taste spicier when raw rather than cooked. When dried, poblano peppers are ancho chilis.
Poblano peppers are well used in Mexican cooking as particularly when roasted, they have a wonderful smoky flavor that pairs well with rice and beans. They also have a lovely depth of flavor that is great in a whole range of dishes and sauces, like this one.
Origins of espagueti verde
Although it is a little hard to find too much about the history of this dish, the most likely story is similar to that of tallarines verdes, a Peruvian pasta dish. While Mexican cooking has many ancient roots including Mayan and Aztec, the main modern influence is Spanish, for obvious reasons.
There have been other immigrant influences, however, including Italian in the late 19th century in particular. Just as with many Spanish dishes, some Italian dishes were adapted to what was available locally. Espagueti verde (also called pasta poblana, pasta verde, green pasta and other names) is most likely a product of that Italo-Mexican fusion.
Ingredients for this creamy poblano sauce
You'll find a few slight variations in this dish but most include as a minimum poblano peppers, a creamy element and simple seasonings, generally including garlic. In this version I use:
- Roasted poblano peppers - roasting brings out the flavor, reduces the spice level a little, softens the peppers and makes it easier to remove the skin and seeds. These give the main flavor for the sauce, as well as the green color.
- Mexican crema - this is a thick kind of sour cream common in Mexican cooking - if you have had Mexican street corn, it would almost certainly have had crema as part of the topping. Here it adds a lovely creamy texture to the sauce.
- Garlic - adds flavor to the sauce. You only want a little so it doesn't overpower the other flavors.
- Cilantro (coriander) - this adds an extra little bright freshness.
- Stock - this adds a bit more depth of flavor. In most cases, you simply use a bouillon/stock cube or granules. If you have fresh stock, this also works, but you'll want to cook the sauce down a little more to thicken.
- Butter - you use a little to cook the sauce in after you blend up everything else. It adds a little more richness, but mainly helps in cooking to both thicken and reduce any raw garlic flavor.
- Cheese - you can use either queso fresco or cotija cheese to top this dish for serving.
Traditionally, you serve the sauce with spaghetti (espagueti is the Spanish name), but you can use other types of pasta as well. I recommend more of a thin pasta rather than shells, for example, so the sauce coats more evenly rather than getting stuck in crevasses. So things like trofie or casarecce could be good.
Poblano peppers are pretty widely available in the US these days, but if you can't find them, green bell peppers would be the best alternative. If you want a little more spice, you could use mainly bell pepper with a small amount of jalapeño. Italian green peppers can work, but they tend to be trickier to peel.
For the Mexican crema, your best alternative is sour cream or créme fraîche. Both have a similar slight sharpness, though sour cream is a little less rich and creamy. Another option is to use cream with some lemon juice - thick/double is probably best.
Some recipes use some cream cheese for a richer, creamier sauce. Personally, I don't think this is needed with Mexican crema, but if you use one of the alternatives, you might want to use maybe around ¼ of the amount as cream cheese to give that creamier texture.
While Mexican cheeses are unsurprisingly the most typical to top this, if you don't have any then parmesan or pecorino would also work.
Ways to adapt the sauce
If you want to sneak in some extra greens, you can add in some spinach to the sauce when you are blending everything up. You won't really taste it, and the color is of course the same, but it's a nice way to add some extra veggies.
Some add in some onion for extra flavor, though if you do, I suggest cooking it a little first to have the gently sweet rather than raw flavor in there.
If you want to make this a main course, you can add some extra protein to make it a fuller meal, such as some cooked chicken or shrimp. I would note that while the amount of pasta below may seem on the lower side, this is a surprisingly filling sauce.
Top tip: prepare the peppers ahead
While you can definitely make this sauce all at once, the bit that takes the time is preparing the peppers. This can easily be done ahead of time, and you can also prepare more if you need them for other dishes as well. Just store the prepared peppersin a sealed container in the fridge for a day or two until needed.
You can also prepare the whole sauce ahead of time and store in the fridge for around 2 - 3 days. Then just warm the butter, add the sauce and warm through as you would if using there and then.
Additional preparation tips
This is overall pretty easy, but a couple of additional tips to help it come out well:
- Roast the peppers until gently black - you want the skin to be starting to peel and the flesh should be very soft. You can do this as you prefer, either in the oven, over a flame or under the broiler.
- Leave the peppers to sweat in a bag - this helps to loosen the skin, making them easier to peel.
- Blend everything up until very smooth. You can use a blender or food processor. At this point you can store in the fridge for later, as suits.
- Warm the butter on a medium-low heat. You don't want to burn the butter, or the sauce when you add it, so only warm gently.
- Cook the pasta al dente - this works best when the pasta has a small amount of 'bite'. Try not to overcook the pasta.
- Add some reserved pasta water if needed to thin the sauce, or cook longer to thicken, as needed. This helps you control how thick the sauce is - it should be relatively thick so that it holds onto the pasta.
Espagueti verde combines pasta with a wonderful creamy poblano sauce to create a creamy pasta dish that's packed with flavor. This Mexican green spaghetti is comforting, easy to make and perfect as a side dish or main. One to try soon, for sure!
Try these other tasty pasta dishes:
- Creamy chard pesto baked orzo
- Crab pasta
- Lemon mascarpone pasta
- Plus get more Mexican recipes and side dishes in the archives.
Espagueti verde (Mexican green spaghetti)
- 2 poblano peppers medium-small, less if large
- 5 stems cilantro
- ½ cup Mexican crema (see notes for alternatives)
- 1 clove garlic small
- ½ teaspoon bouillon powder stock (½tsp powder is ½ a stock cube)
- ½ tablespoon butter
- 4 oz spaghetti
- 2 tablespoon cotija cheese or queso fresco (approx)
- Roast the poblano peppers whole using your preferred method - you can char them over a gas flame (either grill or stovetop, taking care holding the peppers with tongs). Alternatively, place them on a baking sheet/tray and roast in the oven at 400F/200C or under the broiler/overhead grill. In all cases, turn the peppers regularly so that the skin blisters and blackens evenly. Cooking time will vary depending on cooking method and size of peppers, so keep a close eye on them.
- Once the peppers are well softened and have patches of black all over, remove from the heat. Place them in a plastic bag and fold over the top so that you create a steam packet. (Alternatively, you can place peppers on a plate and cover with cling wrap/cling film but a bag is less wasteful as you can wash and re-use after). Leave the peppers to steam and cool for around 10 minutes.
- Remove the peppers from the bag, then peel off the skin - you can use a knife to get it started but your fingers are often easiest to do the peeling. Open up the pepper and remove the core and seeds. Don't worry if the pepper breaks up, strips are fine. At this point, you can store the roasted peppers in the fridge to make the sauce later, if you prefer.
- Place the peppers, cilantro, Mexican crema, garlic and stock/bouillon powder in a food processor or blender. Blend everything together until well broken up and mixed.
- Cook your pasta until al dente (just tender). When it is almost ready, warm the butter over a medium-low heat in a skillet/frying pan or saute pan large enough to hold the pasta, then add the sauce. Cook, stirring regularly, to warm through and thicken slightly.
- When the pasta is ready, add it directly into the sauce and toss to coat the pasta all over. If it is too thick, add a little of the pasta cooking water.
- Serve, topped with a sprinkling of cotija or queso fresco cheese (and some additional cilantro to garnish, if you like).
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