by Betty Thompson
Cookbook author Joe Famularo writes, "Looking at a bowl of pasta one sees sunshine and laughter, vivid colors and strong accents, opera stagings and mellifluous chatter."
Sunshine, laughter, daffodils, pussy willows, fresh artichokes, asparagus, warm rhubarb crisp all remind me of spring. A good way to celebrate spring is to serve Pasta Primavera.
Primavera means spring in Italian. Basically it's lots of fresh vegetables quickly cooked in a light sauce served over pasta. These dishes can be prepared very quickly at the last minute, thus allowing the cook time to enjoy spring.
Italians are fanatics about the way pasta is cooked and served and fanatics about using fresh vegetables. It has been said it is far better for the diner to be seated waiting for the pasta than the pasta to wait for the diner. Good planning is needed to make the pasta, sauce and dinner time come together.
Prepare vegetables ahead. Firm vegetables such as asparagus and green beans need to be blanched before adding them to the sauces. Chill briefly in cold water after the blanching to stop the cooking and preserve the green color. They can be done early in the day. Have the table set and everything ready to go.
To cook one pound of pasta, bring four quarts of water to a full boil, add 1!/2 tablespoons salt and wait for the water to boil again. Add the pasta, stirring to prevent sticking and cook until "al dente" (to the teeth).
This means it has a good firm bite, not limp and mushy. After five minutes of cooking, begin taste testing. Every shape and brand of pasta cooks differently; only the taste test, not package directions, will tell when it is perfect.
While the pasta cooks, make the sauce, drain the pasta, dress it with a little butter or olive oil. Toss it with the sauce or place in a heated bowl and top with sauce. Eat immediately.
Serve two to three ounces (six people to a pound) as a separate course as the Italians do or serve it as a side dish to accompany a steak or chop. Add a little fish or meat and serve as a main course.
There are many variations so feel free to make substitutions using your favorite fresh vegetables.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup dry wine or stock
2 small zucchini, sliced
1 green pepper cut into thin strips
1/4 pound snow peas, stems removed
4 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
3/4 pound thin spaghetti, cooked and drained.
In a large fry pan, sauté onions and carrot in olive oil until tender crisp. Add mushrooms and continue frying for another minute. Add wine or stock and reduce by half.
Add zucchini, green pepper, peas, and diced tomatoes. Cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper, garlic and parsley. Serve immediately over hot thin spaghetti.
Variation: Add 1/2 pound cooked shrimp when adding garlic and parsley.
The robust combination of garlic, red chilies, anchovy and the addition of a few bitter greens dressed with lemon is exciting. If you think you don't like anchovy you may be surprised. Serve with a grilled lamb chop. For a milder version, reduce amount of garlic, pepper and anchovy and choose milder greens such as spinach and chard.
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 flat anchovy fillets (canned)
1 pound mixed greens such as spinach, chard, turnip, sorrel, arugula, curly endive
3/4 pound large shell pasta
Peel from one lemon, finely grated
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons toasted bread crumbs (dry fry carefully in a frying pan.)
Clean greens and cut larger leaves in two or three pieces. Omit coarse chard stems or chop into small pieces. Boil pasta and greens together in a large pot of water until pasta is "al dente."
In a large sauté pan, sauté garlic in olive oil until tender; add red pepper flakes and anchovy fillets.
Stir until fillets are melted. Add cooked and drained pasta and greens. Toss until well coated. Add grated lemon peel and the juice of half a lemon. Turn out on a heated serving plate and top with toasted bread crumbs.
Variation: Use one pound broccoli or cauliflower cut into florets in place of the greens.
Tender fresh asparagus and green beans team up with pasta in a creamy-smooth sauce with a hint of tarragon. A few strips of sweet red pepper add a dash of color.
For the sauce take your choice of one cup: cream (80 grams fat), half and half (28 grams fat) or low-fat condensed milk (4 grams fat).
1 pound asparagus
1/2 pound green beans
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry vermouth or stock
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
1 cup cream or low-fat condensed milk
1 sweet red pepper, cut into thin strips
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound macaroni such as penne
Trim off tough ends of asparagus and cut into 2-inch lengths. Snip beans and cut in half. Parboil beans for 10 minutes, asparagus for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse immediately with cold water. Set aside.
Put pasta on to boil. In a large skillet, sauté onions in butter for 2-3 minutes. Add vermouth and reduce by half.
Add tarragon and cream and simmer until slightly thickened (about 2 minutes). Add beans, asparagus and sweet pepper strips. Season with salt and pepper to taste and heat through.
Drain pasta and add to the sauce. Coat with the sauce, sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.
Variation: Add 1/2 pound cooked shredded chicken or ham cut julienne when the asparagus is added.
Betty Thompson teaches cooking classes locally. See Culinary section of this month's Calendar.
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