Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera

It is funny how one little pasta dinner is the cause of serious debate and unfavorable opinions. After all, pasta primavera simply is pasta prepared with delicately cooked vegetables. What is so serious about that? Well, Pasta Primavera’s origin for one, and its popularity for another.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera reicpe
A Brief History of Pasta Primavera

This pasta specialty is not of Italian origin, but is a 1975 American creation either at Le Cirque in NY City, or in Nova Scotia with a Le Cirque chef/owner connection, (Wikipedia). The recipe’s fame started at Le Cirque where customers could special order the meal because it was not on the menu. Amanda Hesser’s 2009 article in the NY Times, states Jean Vergens, then chef at Le Cirque, hated the dish so much he refused to allow Pasta Primavera cooked in Le Cirque’s kitchen. In order to satisfy their costumers, the staff had to cook the dish in the hallway.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

What is not of debate is, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey’s article about Le Cirque’s recipe in the New York Times, made Pasta Primavera famous. Unfortunately, the fame of pasta primavera help create its’ loss of appeal. Across America, Italian American restaurants served Pasta Primavera. This crossover from a secret meal specially prepared, to mainstream America changed its identity. How can pasta with vegetables taste bad? It can when mediocre restaurants take over the pasta primavera market, (Hesser, A. New York Times 2009). Unfortunately, a meal created using French and Italian cooking techniques, became ordinary in the mass production.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

Pasta Primavera Done Right

I like my pasta dishes with an abundance of extra ingredients mixed with some pasta, not the other way around. Depending on the recipe, pasta is a foundation for vegetables and sauces to stand out. Preparing pasta with good technique and consideration for the ingredients, creates food that is fresh tasting and has good structure and texture. A pasta dinner becomes a light and comforting meal. Pasta primavera is no exception. Primavera means spring and the vegetables and sauce should reflect a meal with fresh green vegetables with a light sauce. A rich and heavy sauce will overwhelm the vegetables and drain one’s energy.

More pasta recipes: Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables, Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Sausage and Pasta

This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated and, like a lot of their recipes, has a lot of steps. However, these steps help build flavor and develop a creamy sauce without a trace of cream. Even still, this recipe has 6 steps and the original Le Cirque recipe has 10, so fortunately, it is not as involved as the original.

What makes Cook’s Illustrated recipe so different? The pasta is prepared like risotto. This technique develops lightly toasted pasta with a nutty flavor. Additionally, this technique produces a silky and creamy texture and a double layer of flavor from the vegetables.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

I slightly adapted the recipe by adding mushrooms and lightly toasting the pasta. It is my experience the pasta does not toast evenly in a Dutch oven. It is too deep and therefore, you get an uneven toasting. However, it is convenient to cook this recipe in a Dutch oven, otherwise I need an extra-large sauté pan or more pans. My focus is on the flavors of the vegetables and creating a silky-smooth textured sauce. Because I like the flavor of this recipe so much, I decided not to eliminate the step altogether and just pared it down. I was concerned the luscious texture would not be the same without this step.

As the name suggests, Pasta Primavera is a spring meal overflowing with vegetables. Also contributing to the lively spring flavor are wine, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. This is one of the freshest tasting pasta primavera recipes I’ve had. It is a lovely spring melody of asparagus, peas, mushrooms, leeks, and fresh herbs. It is clear the vegetables are the star of the show.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera reicpe

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

Gluten-Free Pasta Primavera

A note for a gluten-free version of this recipe. It is my experience that gluten-free pasta breaks down when prepared following the risotto style directions. The result is an unappealing pile of mushy pasta with your delicious vegetables. I recommend substituting the recipe’s method of cooking pasta, and follow the directions given with your favorite gluten-free pasta. I am not certain why my quinoa pasta turned to mush, but it seems a gluten protein structure keeps the pasta shape intact.

You will need less stock and only add it to braise the vegetables. Lightly, cook the vegetables for less time, in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan. Then, add some vegetable stock and wine and gently braise the vegetables until they are crisp tender. If you wish, just before serving, swirl in a couple of tablespoons of butter to the vegetables for a silkier sauce.

I would love to hear from you. Please tag me @lemonthymeandginger on Instagram or visit my Facebook page if you make this recipe or any recipe from Lemon Thyme and Ginger.  Also, leave me a comment or question in the comment section below the recipe. I love to see and hear about your creations.

Spring Pasta Primavera

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Category: Entree

Cuisine: Italian American

Serving Size: 4-6 servings

Spring Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera is a bright spring vegetable pasta dinner garnished with lemon zest, chives and mint. The texture is creamy, yet there is no cream added. This is because the pasta is cooked like risotto and absorbs all the vegetable stock in the pot. I love the melody of the fresh spring vegetables.

Gluten free note: If you prefer using gluten free pasta, cook the pasta according to the directions on the back of the pasta box. I made this recipe with quinoa pasta and the risotto style cooking method turned the pasta into mush. Briefly cook the vegetables in a separate skillet then add some vegetable stock and braise them until they are crisp tender. You are not going to have as creamy a texture, but the flavors will still be fresh, bright and delicious.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Spring Vegetable Pasta.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium leeks, halved lengthwise, washed then sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 lb asparagus (453 g)
  • 2 cups (330 g) frozen peas, defrosted
  • 8 (about 100 g) white mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 medium garlic cloves
  • 4 cups (1 liter) vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water (250 ml)
  • 2 TB fresh mint, minced
  • 2 TB fresh chives, minced
  • 1/2 tsp fine lemon zest, plus 2 TB lemon juice
  • 5 TB Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound (453 g) pasta, like farfalle, penne, campanelle
  • 1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
  • 1 oz (31 g) grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

    Prep the vegetables:
  1. Trim off the tough ends from the asparagus. Rough chop the tough fibrous ends and put into a large sauce pan. Cut the spears on the bias into one inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Set the trimmed spears aside.
  2. Wash and trim off the dark green parts of the leeks and add to the pot with the tough asparagus ends. Slice lengthwise down the middle of each leek. Wash each half making sure all the dirt is washed off between the layers of the leeks. Dry them with a clean cloth and slice each half into thin half-moons. Set aside.
  3. Defrost the peas and divide into 2-one cup (250 ml) portions.
    Enhance the broth
  1. Add the dark green leek trimmings and 1 cup of the peas to the pot with the asparagus trimmings. Add the vegetable broth and one cup of the water. Turn the heat to medium-high heat and bring the stock to a simmer. Turn down the heat and simmer the vegetables in the broth for about 10 minutes. Drain the vegetables from the stock through a fine mesh strainer over an 8-cup measuring cup or large bowl. Press down on the vegetables to extract as much of the juices as possible. Discard the vegetables and add more water to make 5 cups of stock. Return the stock to the sauce pan and keep warm on low heat.
    Herb mixture:
  1. While you are waiting for the stock to finish, mix the lemon zest, minced mint and chives into a small bowl. Set aside.
    Cook the Vegetable Medley
  1. Add 2 TB extra virgin olive oil to a Dutch oven and set the stove to medium high. When the oil shimmers, add the leeks and a pinch of Kosher salt. Stir to evenly coat the vegetables in olive oil. Cook the leeks until soft and just starting to brown about 4-5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the trimmed asparagus and cook for 4-5 minutes until just tender, but still has a crispy bite. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic, stir and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the peas, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Taste the vegetables and add more salt if needed. Turn off the heat and spoon the cooked vegetable medley onto a plate. Reverse.
    Cook the Pasta
  1. Wipe out the Dutch oven and add 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 2 minutes stirring constantly.
  2. Add the wine and cook until the wine has dissolved. Stir frequently while the wine is reducing.
  3. Add the vegetable stock. Turn the heat up to bring the stock to a light boil, then turn the heat down to medium. Frequently stir the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the stock. 10-12 minutes.
    Putting it all together
  1. Once the pasta is cooked al dente, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, 1 oz (31 g) grated Romano cheese, and half the reserved minced herbs. Stir the pasta until the cheese is evenly combined. Add the vegetables and stir. Season with Kosher salt, ground pepper.
  2. Serve immediately and garnish with remaining herbs and Romano cheese.

Notes

If you use store-bought vegetable stock, use one that is not predominately made with carrots or winter squash. The stock will look orange and so will everything you cook it with. There are many vegetable stocks on the market and all taste different depending on the vegetables used to make it. (This is one reason why I make vegetable stock). I cannot deny the convenience of store-bought stock, but I encourage you to read the ingredients so you know what you are getting.

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© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Tomato Sauce With Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar á la Marcella Hazan

Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary RecipeDuring this frenetic and festive holiday season, it is helpful to have a well-stocked pantry to quickly feed the family without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. If you have a can of plum tomatoes, garlic and olive oil you can cook up a tomato sauce in 15 minutes. If you have fresh or dried rosemary and balsamic vinegar, that 15-minute tomato sauce elevates into a herby infused wonderland. There is no need to call for pizza delivery, tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce mixed in with steaming bowl of penne pasta is quick, easy to make, and will warm you up on these brisk fall nights.

Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary recipe

 

Tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce is a throwback and staple recipe of mine. I used to make it a lot during the early years of my marriage for my growing family. Some recipes are timeless and will never feel out-of-place no matter how many years have passed. Tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce is such a recipe. It is a special classic.

Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary

Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary recipe

 

I discovered it in a cookbook of mine, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan dating back to 1986. Marcella Hazan is one of my cookbook authors who I attribute to teaching me about real Italian cooking. While I read and cooked through her cookbooks, I learned how simple, but not simplistic, Italian cooking is. Using only a few key ingredients and traditional techniques, it is easy to create a fresh tasting, delicious and satisfying meal. Of course there are those traditional meals that take hours to make, but most of the food I relied on, could be prepared in 30 – 40 minutes. Many of Marcella’s pasta recipes became family favorites that over time would develop into our own.

Tomato Sauce with Balsamic and Rosemary Recipe

This recipe first caught my attention because of the added balsamic vinegar and rosemary was unlike any tomato sauce I had before. From this recipe I learned about adding vinegar to a sauce or stew to brighten up the flavor of the food. Up until that time I had only used vinegar for salad dressing. I loved the additional body and bright flavor the vinegar brought out in stews and sauces, and I continue to season with vinegar in several of my other recipes.

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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad

I can hear the motors gearing up as people get ready to travel for a long weekend summer vacation. The car is packed with bikes, kayaks, towels, swim-gear, boogie boards, camping equipment, and overflowing with 12 changes of clothes per person for three days, because you never know what the weather will bring. Labor Day is here and people are anticipating a fun weekend full of playtime with family and friends for a last summer hurrah.

Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad Recipe
Gull Pond, Wellfleet, MA

With all of this great activity in the summer’s sun,  you are going to want to make food that will not take up a lot of your play time, needs to be nourishing, and taste as bright and delightful as your weekend vacation. My solution is Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad, loaded with fresh vegetables, cured olives, creamy cheese and fresh herbs.  It is a light and refreshing pasta salad that will satiate your hunger and cravings and use up a lot of vegetables that you purchased at the farmer’s market, or picked from your own garden. The bonus is, this pasta salad recipe won’t take up a lot of your play time to prepare.

Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad Recipe
Fresh Grape Tomatoes
Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad Recipe
Basket of Garden Vegetables

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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Family Favorite: Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables

Do you know that feeling you get when the family or friends are together and all is good with the world? It can happen spontaneously by a simple gesture or after a big heartfelt moment. I treasure those moments, the feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. Peace. At those times the little things do add up and are greatly appreciated. A simple “Thank you”, carries a generous gratitude, “You are doing a great job”, gives a small boost of  confidence, “I am here”, builds reassurance that you are not alone. Even a home cooked meal creates a time and place to gather family and or friends together, and can reinforce all the above.

{reparation for pasta with ham and spring vegetables.

Asparagus for pasta with ham and spring vegetables.

I know it sounds cliché, but in our home that moment and feeling would happen when we served pasta for dinner. When pasta was on the table, everyone was happy. A pasta dinner satisfied all taste and food preferences in the family. There were no protests at dinner, even if it did include an ingredient that was not a particular favorite. That offending food would be pushed aside and everything else would be devoured without complaint. When the, “… What?… Why? …Really?…Again? …I hate that,” for dinner drama was not a focal point of the evening, the five of us would be relaxed, the conversation would flow, jokes told, and all was right with the world.

Ingredients for pasta with ham and spring vegetables.

Mise en place for pasta with ham and spring vegetables.

Spring vegetable mix for pasta with ham and spring vegetable recipe.

When I would combine two favorite foods in one meal, that would make the evening a special occasion.  My children love ham almost as much as they love pasta. Pasta with ham and peas would satisfy two cravings, and even some of the peas would be eaten. It is one of the meals and recipes most frequently requested by my sons. Now that they are independent, they enjoy cooking this meal for their friends and significant others. My oldest son claims that it was this meal that jump-started his relationship with the girl of his dreams. That loving couple is recently happily married, so you never know where a home cooked pasta dinner will lead.

When it’s pasta for dinner, all is right with the world.

Recipe for pasta dinner with ham and spring vegetables. It is an easy weeknight dinner that all family members will enjoy.

Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

4 - 6 servings

Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables

Pasta with ham and spring vegetables is a very versatile meal and one that I adapt frequently. The base of this recipe is pasta with ham, cream and peas, but the asparagus is so good this time of year that I wanted to include it. I have been really enjoying asparagus with leeks and tarragon so I omitted the cream to focus on the spring vegetables and ham. If you are interested in using cream add about a 1/2 cup or less to the sauce around the time you add the ham and peas. The spring vegetable and tarragon combination is a melody of its own, and would be a delicious vegetarian option without the ham. As with a lot of pasta meals, recipes are guidelines and can be adapted based on what odd and ends of vegetables are in the frig calling out to be used. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta, penne, farfalle or fusilli are great choices
  • 12 oz cured ham, sliced in strips 1 inch by 1/4 inch
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • 1 to 2 lbs of asparagus
  • 1 small leek, cleaned and white and light green parts sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth, preferably homemade or low salt store bought
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves,minced
  • 2 Tbls chopped fresh tarragon, plus one sprig of tarragon
  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 1-2 Tb butter
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper

Instructions

    Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking.
  1. Clean and cut off the woody end of each asparagus spear. Hold onto to each end of an asparagus spear and bend it bringing both ends together. Where it snaps off, the bottom portion is the woody tip, discard. Cut the remainder of the asparagus spears into thirds.
  2. Peel the garlic and remove the green germ (sprout of a new garlic plant), then mince the garlic,
  3. Slice the ham to even strips shorter than the asparagus.
  4. Mince tarragon
    Cook pasta
  1. Fill a 5 qt stock pot halfway to three quarters full with fresh water. Set the stock pot with the water on a burner and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a rapid boil and cook pasta according to the directions on the back of the pasta box.
  2. Reserve some of the pasta cooking water when finished cooking.
    Make the spring vegetable and ham sauce.
  1. Begin preparing the sauce while you are waiting for the water to boil. Melt 1 Tbl olive oil and 1 Tbl butter in a large 12-inch skillet, or sauté pan. Once the butter has melted add the leeks and garlic to the pan. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt and sauté stirring lightly. Add the prepared asparagus and tarragon spear to the leeks and briefly sauté. Add about 1/2 cup vegetable broth, cover the pan, and braise the vegetables on medium heat for about 5 minutes. The asparagus will not be completely cooked through at this point. You want them to still be crisp with some liquid in the pan. Take the top off the skillet and add the sliced ham and peas. Continue cooking the vegetable and ham mixture at a low simmer, uncovered. This should be around 3-5 minutes before the pasta is done. You are just warming up the ham and peas since they are already cooked.
    Putting it all together
  1. Once the pasta is done, turn off the heat, scoop out some pasta cooking water and set aside, and drain out the water through a strainer. Return the pasta to the pot on the stove. Add the grated cheese and a small amount of the pasta water, start with about 1/4 cup or less, to the pasta and stir until the cheese is melted and everything is evenly distributed. Add the vegetable and ham sauce, minced tarragon, and 1 Tb of butter or olive oil to he pasta. Stir until mixed through.
  2. Serve immediately with grated cheese and fresh ground black pepper on the side.

Notes

1.It is hard to mess up with pasta, with the exception of overcooking it. Over cooked pasta is mushy and miserable. Use the back of the box as a guideline for cooking time and begin tasting a couple of minutes before the recommended total cooking time. Cook the pasta al dente. There will still be a firm texture, but not chewy or raw tasting. The color of the pasta will have an even appearance and there will be nothing mushy or gummy about it. 2. Just like overcooked pasta, overcooked vegetables are a major disappointment. They lose their shape, texture and flavor when they are overcooked. I like my vegetables cooked but still crisp in texture with a bit of freshness left in them. Watch the vegetables and taste for desired doneness.

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