Forget that crap they serve in bad Italian restaurants. (All year round, mind you. Does anyone else see the irony in that?) This is the real thing. It’s spring (did you hear?), and this is a pasta dish that shows off the season’s finest. It’s a dead-simple preparation that doesn’t skimp on flavor, and it takes mere minutes to throw together.
It’s hardly a recipe, I confess. But that’s mostly because it can be made any which way, with whatever spring vegetables are in your fridge now. If you see this and think, “I need this right now,” I gotcha. Variations of this recipe have been my lunch 5 days out of the past two weeks. I started with asparagus, mushrooms, and peas. When I roasted some late-season brussels sprouts one night for dinner, I added the leftovers to my pasta for the next day’s lunch. If you have other vegetables — favas, carrots, whatever — they’d be lovely here as well. And yes, I tossed in a forkful of the caramelized onions I keep in the fridge. What’s pasta primavera without’em?
And one more tip for this lovely Friday: many spring vegetables, including peas, asparagus, mushrooms, scallions, and favas, have bits that you discard, be they tough stems, or pods. Instead of simply throwing them away, along with their wonderful flavor, here’s a fresh idea for what to do with them: stick them in a big pot of boiling water, add a whole onion, and maybe a few stems from your basil or mint leaves, plus some salt. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes. Let cool overnight in the fridge, then strain through a strainer lined with either cheese cloth or 2 paper towels (yes, it really works). Pour the strained liquid into ice cube trays, and freeze. Now you’ve got the most flavorful, aromatic spring vegetable broth, stored in easy-to-use ice cubes. I have a gallon-size bag full of these cubes, and they’re the perfect addition to pasta primavera.
serves 4, or 2 hungry people plus weekday lunch leftovers
1 pound any kind of pasta; I’ve used penne, macaroni, and shells, all great
caramelized onions, if you’ve got’em
2 scallions, chopped finely
1 1/2 pounds any of the following: asparagus, peas, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, fava beans, or other spring vegetable
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
2/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino cheese
a couple pieces fresh mozzarella or spoonfuls fresh ricotta, optional
salt and pepper
a couple leaves fresh basil, mint, or both
If using fava beans, remove beans from pod, boil for about 5 minutes, and remove beans from waxy coating. Reserve; you’ll add them to the finished dish.
Meanwhile, drizzle a couple tablespoons olive oil in a wide saute pan and heat on medium-high. Add caramelized onions and/or scallions and stir to soften, 2 minutes. Then add mushrooms — you want them to really fry up and release their flavor. When mushrooms have sizzled, sizzled some more, and finally released their juice, sprinkle a pinch of salt. Leave heat around medium-high. (If you’re in a rush, as I was one night, you can skip this step and add everything all together.)
If you’re doing this in stages, add the slower-cooking vegetables, like brussels and asparagus, next. If you need a drizzle more olive oil, go for it. When the asparagus and sprouts have been coated in the oil and have started to develop some color on the underside, turn heat down to medium. Add about 1/4 cup broth or water to the pan; it will boil vigorously, then calm down. Add a pinch of salt.
When asparagus are starting to soften, add extra broth if pan is dry, and then add peas. You’ll cook the vegetables for about 3 minutes after peas are added, just long enough to warm them through. At this point, pasta will be done — drain and reserve.
Add the pasta to the pan with the vegetables, and use tongs to toss pasta and “sauce” together. Add cheese, toss to coat, and serve immediately.