Spring Vegetable Pasta

DSC03337This recipe is inspired by the once wildly popular Pasta Primavera served at Le Cirque in Manhattan. According to this New York Times article, the dish was “meant to be an expression of spring.” Thankfully, the experts at Cook’s Illustrated were able to take a complex, extremely time consuming recipe and simplify it down to the basics for home cooks, so it now takes a fraction of the time. I bought most of the ingredients at the farmers’ market last weekend. Because I didn’t properly read the recipe beforehand, this also included fresh campanelle from RP’s, which I later realized I couldn’t use with this recipe. It turns out you really need dried pasta. That’s because the whole basis of the recipe is cooking the pasta in the classic risotto method—first toasting the pasta, then pouring in some dry white wine and then vegetable broth until they’re absorbed. The resulting pasta is extremely flavorful—“bright tasting vegetables and nutty pasta in a complex, richly flavored sauce [that] truly tastes like spring.” With its leeks, asparagus, baby peas, mint leaves, and chives on full display, I can’t think of a more lovely expression of spring.

Spring Vegetable Pasta (from Cook’s Illustrated; May & June 2011; serves 4-6)

3 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups); 3 cups roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, chopped coarsely, and reserved; spears cut on bias into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Table salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound campanelle
1 cup dray white wine
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper

1. Place dark green leek trimmings, asparagus trimmings, 1 cup peas, 2 teaspoons garlic, vegetable broth, and water in large saucepan. Bring to simmer over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low and gently simmer 10 minutes. White broth simmers, combine mint, chives, and lemon zest in small bowl; set aside.

2. Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have 5 cups broth; add water as needed to measure 5 cups). Discard solids and return broth to saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced leeks and pinch salt; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus pieces and cook until tender-crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining cup peas and continue to cook 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to plate and set aside. Wipe out pot.

4. Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in now empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

5. When wine is fully absorbed, add hot broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.

6. Remove pot from heat, stir in lemon juice, Parmesan, half of herb mixture, and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan cheese and remaining herb mixture separately.DSC03334


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