Pasta primavera—the very name of which means spring—
reclaims its title as the season’s most delicate dish
epeat a phrase often enough and it’s bound to lose some of its original meaning. Such is the case with pasta primavera, a dish that originally celebrated and showcased spring’s early green glories but today has come to mean pretty much any pasta dish featuring pretty much any vegetables, regardless of seasonality. The very qualities that first made it famous—simple ingredients and clean, crisp flavors—have largely been lost. Regardless of how you feel about carrots and peppers, neither has a place in a true primavera, largely because they are available year-round and thus lack the sweet, delicate quality the dish requires in order to live up to its full potential. Pasta primavera is not to be taken lightly.
If this all sounds strident, I should mention that for a long time and for precisely the reasons listed above, pasta primavera was the sort of dish I never thought of making. So removed from its original form was my concept of the dish that there seemed no reason to bother. That all changed when I opened the winter/spring collection of recipes from food magazine Canal House Cooking and discovered its version of the classic, which I bring you here in modified form.
This recipe generously serves eight, making it perfect for a spring dinner party
It’s fitting that this about-face comes thanks to Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the talented ladies behind Canal House Cooking, a lively seasonal publication that combines enthusiasm for the art of cooking with brilliant and easy-to-replicate recipes. Pasta primavera was a natural choice for the two, and their rendition of the dish practically screams spring. What’s more, since the goal of this recipe is to capitalize on the bright flavors of the season’s young vegetables, preparation and assembly require little more than a quick sauté and a gentle toss. From start to finish, the dish should take roughly half an hour, making this the perfect meal for a busy weeknight.
As for the dish’s star ingredients—the vegetables themselves—the goal of the Canal House recipe is to make the most of what’s in season. Use it as your guide, but let the produce bin dictate your decisions. Maximize what’s freshest. I felt no compunction about swapping out items that were not readily available (namely fresh fava beans) and including those that were (extraordinarily sweet snap peas). You can just as easily experiment with fiddleheads, baby zucchini, edamame or, yes, those fava beans listed in the original recipe. Take advantage of the youngest, newest vegetables and you simply cannot go wrong.
The goal of the Canal House recipe is to make the most of what’s
in season. Use it as a guide, but let the produce bin dictate
your decisions. Maximize what’s freshest.
f all else fails, frozen vegetables are a good substitute for fresh ones, should your options in the produce aisle be limited. Even the Canal House duo, champions of seasonality as they are, list frozen peas as a viable option in their recipe. Thus, I felt fine mixing frozen lima beans into my version of the dish when fresh fava beans could not be found. Any of the lima beans’ shortcomings were easily balanced by the full flavors of brand-new asparagus and those snap peas, creating a perfect blend of tastes.
Having never made a primavera before, I confess to being surprised by the presence of a cup of smoked ham in this recipe. And while I suppose one could get away with omitting it, its presence here offers a salty counterpoint to the natural sweetness of the vegetables. In fact, by browning the ham in the skillet along with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil before adding the greens, fat from the ham combines with the oil to provide a simple pan sauce that coats the ingredients and ultimately works its way around a strand of spaghetti. A tablespoon of tomato paste also adds a subtle acidic component, while a dusting of refreshing mint and salty pecorino cheese round out the simple yet unexpected medley of flavors. Best of all, this recipe generously serves eight people, making it a perfect choice for the season’s first alfresco dinner parties.
If you have ever wondered what springtime tastes like, this pasta primavera is your answer.
Browned smoked ham offers a savory, salty kick to balance the sweetness of English peas and asparagus
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 c. diced smoked ham
- 1 c. fava beans, blanched and peeled (THE RECIPE GRINDER NOTE: I used frozen lima beans.)
- 1 c. fresh or frozen English peas (TRG NOTE: I used fresh snap peas.)
- 1½ c. chopped thin asparagus
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- Good quality extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling)
- Finely chopped fresh mint leaves (TRG NOTE: About ¼ c.)
- Grated pecorino Romano cheese (TRG NOTE: About ½ c.)
A quick sauté is all your fresh vegetables and ham need to bring out their bold flavors
- Fill a large pot with water, add a few pinches of salt and bring the water to a boil over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, heat the 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the ham, and cook, stirring often, until the ham is slightly browned. Add the fava beans, peas and asparagus (or whichever vegetables you are using). Season with salt and pepper, then add a splash of water. Sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables are just cooked (about 3 minutes). Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook until just tender (about 10 minutes). Drain, return to the pot, add the tomato paste, drizzle with the good olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the ham and vegetables and all their pan juices to the pasta, and gently toss. Divide the pasta between warm bowls, and sprinkle with fresh mint and pecorino Romano.
- Serves 8.
- Courtesy of Brad Goldfarb