It appears Spring may have finally arrived in Brockport NY (although there is something curiously akin to snow falling outside my window this morning). Often the seasons or events throughout the year conjure up my special food memories or ideas — and Spring always makes me think of Pasta Primavera.
In my early foodservice career, around 1984, I joined a local company that provided contract food services for business, industry, and school feeding programs. And basically for 15 years I managed cafeterias for some of Rochester’s largest employers and a couple of smaller school districts. In that arena I was often called upon to create themed menus and promotional events around the holidays and calendar seasons. Back then it was common to focus on a theme for the weeks leading up to and following the actual special day (much like retail stores featuring Christmas supplies in October). With Spring we would tend to focus on more fresh food, vegetables, lighter meals, and ‘take away’ items as more of customers were getting outside during their lunch breaks. With that in mind I would often feature lighter, more vegetable based meals like Pasta Primavera.
Pasta Primavera (meaning “first spring” in Latin) is a dish that combines early Spring vegetables (often green vegetables) with pasta and traditionally a cream and butter based sauce (think Alfredo style) but just as often it will be prepared with an olive oil and garlic based sauce such as a basil pesto. It seems that Pasta Primavera came into being in the mid-70’s when a New York city chef and restaurateur prepared the dish for the first time for an Italian aristocrat summering in Nova Scotia. The dish then made its way back to NYC and the famous Le Cirque restaurant where it was hailed in a NY Times article as, “the most talked about dish in Manhattan.” From there Pasta Primavera grew in popularity all over the country and is still enjoyed in its various reincarnations today.
Pasta Primavera was all the rage in the 80’s when I started cooking professionally and so I made it often (although admittedly in many cafeteria setting it was typically a combination of ziti pasta, Alfredo sauce, and frozen vegetable blends). Still when the occasion arose for me to prepare a fresh version I would choose to make the recipe featured here using early Spring vegetables and the lighter olive oil based sauce. As you know, I only use Gluten Free pasta in my house — and I chose to write this as a vegetarian recipe — you could leave out the cheese and keep it vegan if desired. I hope you try this version and enjoy the tastes of Spring.
Dan’s Pasta Primavera
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic – peeled
1 cup packed Fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 cup Freshly Shredded Parmesan Cheese
8 oz Fusilli (spiral) Pasta – regular or Gluten Free
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 cup Sweet Onion (like Vidalia) – diced
1 bunch Fresh Asparagus – trimmed of woody ends
1 5-6 oz bag Fresh Baby Spinach
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) Green Peas
1 cup Reserved Pasta Cooking Water (or vegetable broth)
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper – to taste
More Freshly Shredded Parmesan Cheese – for topping
1. Put the extra virgin olive oil and garlic in a food processor or blender, and process until garlic is finely chopped, add the basil leaves and Parmesan – pulsing until thoroughly combined and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
2. Cut off the tips of the asparagus and cut the remaining stalks into 1/2 inch pieces — set both aside.
3. Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta to al dente (about 8 minutes). Remove 1 cup cooking water and set aside. Drain pasta over sink into large colander, briefly rinse with hot tap water, shake off excess and return to pot to keep warm.
4. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet over med-high heat, add the diced onion and cut asparagus stalks — cook for about 3 minutes.
5. Add asparagus tips and peas — cook for another 3 minutes.
6. Add spinach and basil/oil sauce — cook until spinach begins to wilt, about 2 more minutes (add 1/2 cup of reserved pasta cooking water or broth if needed). Turn off heat.
7. Add the cooked pasta and gently toss to coat adding remaining pasta cooking water/broth as needed to keep dish moist.
8. Remove from stove, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and allow to sit for about 5 minutes as pasta absorbs the flavors.
9. Serve immediately topped with additional shredded Parmesan if desired.
There you have it, my version of the famous Pasta Primavera. You can easily substitute other green vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, or beans — and you can add other vegetables like mushrooms, sweet red peppers, or tomatoes if your prefer that taste. I like the simplicity of fewer vegetables and I think sticking to green vegetables lends itself to the spirit of Spring time. However you decide to make your version, I hope you give it a try soon as Spring is certainly a short-lived season around here.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”