Sunday, April 29, 2007

Springtime: Pasta Primavera

It's full, lush springtime in Atlanta. That's "primavera" in Italian. And, needless to say, there's an Italian seasonal dish, "pasta alla primavera" (from northern Italy in this case), celebrating springtime. I myself have been celebrating spring this gorgeous afternoon by gardening, setting out colorful impatience plants, and now having a crisp white wine and light snack as I describe the recipe I developed and taught recently during my spring-quarter Evening at Emory cooking classes.

What distinguishes pasta primavera is a light, quickly made sauce containing fresh early vegetables to dress a "short" pasta, with no meat or heavy flavors of later seasons such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, dried herbs, or olives. Rather the features for this dish can include young asparagus, carrots, turnips, onions, broccoli, early squash, and peas. Any short pasta will do, but somehow “farfalle” (“butterflies” in Italian, dully called “bowties” in English) seems most appropriate.

My recipe has as a base cream and milk rather than olive oil, but despite the seeming richness, the dressing is actually fairly light, letting the vegetables shine through. The prevailing colors are green, appropriately, but the carrots give a little contrast. The seasoning is aromatic with a couple of spices and fresh parsley to enhance rather than dominate. The dish goes very well with a crisp, chilled dry white wine such as a sauvignon blanc (I prefer them from New Zealand, which are generally excellent) or pinot grigio (interesting ones are hard to find, but McManis from California or some of the more expensive ones from Italy can be good). A lightly dressed green salad with tender lettuce and a simple vinaigrette without dried herbs or much garlic would accompany well, and maybe a warm crusty Italian or French bread. The recipe serves six.

Pasta Primavera Tim

Use 1 pound farfalle (bowties) pasta if available, or penne.
Heat a lot of cooking water, add a teaspoon of salt, and have the water hot. Cook pasta AFTER the sauce is prepared.

Sauce:
1/2 pound asparagus (substitute might be 2-3 young yellow squash, depending on size)
3-4 young zucchini, depending on size
1 crown broccoli, cut into small flowerets
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium stalk celery, split lengthwise in three strips, then cut across 1/4-inch wide
1 small-medium carrot, peeled and diced 1/4-inch size
1-1/2 cups frozen peas (do not thaw)
1 clove garlic put through press
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese plus extra for garnish
2 cups coarsely chopped parsley, flat "Italian" type preferred
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk

Prepare the vegetables and set aside: Break off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus and cut the asparagus into 1-1/2-inch lengths. Split the zucchini squash (and yellow, if used) lengthwise into quarters, and slice them 1/4-inch long. Cut the other vegetables as indicated. Press garlic and combine it with salt and spices. Grate cheese finely. Chop the parsley.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion, carrot, and celery until they are tender but not browned. Add the asparagus and squash plus a heavy sprinkle of salt, and stir and fry until starting to become tender, but are still a little crisp. Add the broccoli and cook one more minute. Add the cream, milk, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and seasonings and bring to a boil. Add the frozen peas and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in grated Romano or Parmesan. Put this all in a large pasta bowl from which it will be served.

Cook the pasta until it is just tender to the bite. Drain it in a colander (do not rinse it) and transfer it to the bowl with the vegetables and sauce, along with the parsley. Toss all together. Taste and adjust the salt. Serve immediately, sprinkled with more grated cheese.

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