You'd never know that pasta primavera, a pseudo-Italian dish that appears on virtually every chain restaurant menu, actually has roots in French haute cuisine.
The usual reproduction - a random jumble of produce tossed with noodles in a heavy, flavor-deadening cream sauce - tastes nothing like spring. Surprisingly, when we dug up the original recipe from New York's famed Le Cirque restaurant, our colleagues found it wasn't all that inspiring either, despite taking about 2 hours to prepare and dirtying five pans.
First, the vegetables (which had been painstakingly blanched one by one) were bland. Second, the cream-, butter- and cheese-enriched sauce dulled flavor and didn't really unify the dish.
If we wanted a true spring-vegetable pasta - with a few thoughtfully chosen vegetables and a light, but full-bodied sauce that clung well to the noodles and brought the dish together - we'd have to start from the beginning.
SPRING VEGETABLE PASTA
Start to finish: 1 hour
1 1/2 pounds leeks, white and light-green parts halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2 inch thick and washed thoroughly, plus 3 cups coarsely chopped dark green parts, washed thoroughly
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, chopped coarse and reserved; spears cut on bias into 1/2-inch lengths
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
plus 2 tablespoons juice
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound campanelle (farfalle and penne are acceptable substitutes)
1 cup dry white wine
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
Bring leek greens, asparagus trimmings, 1 cup peas, broth, water and half of garlic to boil in large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. While broth simmers, combine mint, chives and lemon zest in bowl; set aside.
Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup liquid measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have 5 cups broth; add water as needed to equal 5 cups). Discard solids, and return broth to saucepan. Cover, and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeks and pinch salt and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus spears, and cook until asparagus is crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add pepper flakes and remaining garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 cup peas, and continue to cook for 1 minute longer. Transfer vegetables to bowl, and set aside. Wipe out pot with paper towels.
Heat remaining 1/4 cup oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.
When wine is fully absorbed, add warm broth and bring to boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in Parmesan, lemon juice, vegetables and half of herb mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately, passing extra Parmesan and remaining herb mixture separately.
Nutrition information per serving: 605 calories; 155 calories from fat; 17 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 4 mg cholesterol; 436 mg sodium; 88 g carbohydrate; 10 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 18 g protein.
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