With daytime temperatures in the triple digits, it's the perfect time for one of my favorite warm-weather dishes: pasta primavera. It's a dish originally created and popularized by the New York City restaurant Le Cirque in the 1970s, where it was prepared tableside, and is still one of the great pasta dishes ever invented.
At the heart of pasta primavera is fresh vegetables -- the fresher, the better. So, if you have garden veggies you can put to use, all the better. The key to making great pasta primavera is to not overcook the vegetables nor the pasta. The dish should be crisp and refreshing, not mushy nor soggy. Don't kill the veggies!
Also, you could use your imagination and make various substitutions: the addition of mushrooms or sweet corn, for example, or other vegetables you might prefer; I think that some baby arugula leaves would be a nice complement to the recipe. Anyway, here is my version of pasta primavera. I hope you like it.
1 lb. dried pasta, such as spaghetti, farfalle, penne, etc.
1 cup asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup zucchini, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 handful (about 1/4 cup) fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts (I like to lightly toast them in a dry skillet before using.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Begin by cooking the pasta according to package directions in salted water. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, blanch the broccoli, zucchini, peas and asparagus in boiling water, just for a minute or two, to slightly soften the vegetables.
Remove the vegetables from the boiling water and plunge them immediately into an ice water bath. This stops the cooking and also preserves the bright-green color of the veggies.
When the vegetables have cooled down, drain them in a colander and set aside.
In a very large skillet or saute pan (you're going to eventually add the pasta to the pan), heat 4 Tbs. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute, until just golden, a couple of minutes: DON'T burn the garlic. If you do, start over. Nothing ruins a dish quicker than burnt garlic.
Toss the cooked vegetables into the pan with the garlic and olive oil and cook to heat through, about 2-3 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a small skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, add the tomatoes and basil and bring to a simmer. Cook just long enough -- about 3 minutes -- to soften the tomatoes up a little. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Now, you're ready to finish the pasta primavera.
Over medium-high heat, return the pan with the veggies to the stove. Add the butter and the whipping cream and stir or toss to blend well. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the butter has thoroughly melted and the cream is warmed through.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss or stir to incorporate all of the cheese into the sauce.
Next, add the drained pasta to the pan and toss or stir thoroughly, so the pasta is lightly coated with the sauce.
Pour the pasta and sauce from the pan onto a large serving platter or individual plates and add salt and/or pepper, to taste. Garnish with the tomatoes and pine nuts.
Serve with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side, if you'd like.
Photos by Ted Scheffler