According to that ever-flowing fount of knowledge, also known as Wikipedia, Pasta Primavera is an American-Italian pasta dish invented in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque fame.
I beg to differ.
Pasta Primavera means “pasta in the springtime”, which means vegetables and pasta, and I’m dead certain people have been combining pasta and vegetables since way before Mr. Maccioni was a glimmer in his babo’s eye. It’s a natural combination this time of year when after a winter of eating roots we can now eat the stuff that grows above ground.
We happened to pick up some gorgeous asparagus in the market this morning, and I had some tomatoes that needed to be eaten, and that’s how our version of “Pasta in Primavera” came to be. Like the carbonara recipe from the other day, its more about the technique and what you have on hand, than it is about being tied to a recipe.
I was wishing we had some spring onions to go with our lunch, but it was just tomatoes and asparagus.
This is a delicately flavored pasta dish, so the trick here is to concentrate the flavors of the asparagus and tomatoes so that each bite gives you a nice crunchy burst of flavor.
Pasta in Primavera con Asparagi and Pomodori Arrosto or
8 small tomatoes
2-3 hefty garlic cloves (not the skinny cloves that are in the middle of the head)
1 bunch of crispy fresh asparagus
1 hunk of cheese, like a ricotta salata, or something soft and white and easily meltable
1 more clove of garlic
salt, pepper, olive oil
grated lemon peel
Soft, wide, noodle pasta like fettuccine
Slice the tomatoes in half, and place in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with a bit of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the 2 large, unpeeled garlic cloves to the dish, and give them a little coating of oil. Place in the oven and roast at 325F/165C for about 20 minutes. If you are just getting home from work, put the tomatoes in the oven, then go change your clothes, walk the dog etc. When you come back into the kitchen it will already smell good and you’ll be in the mood to make dinner.
Wash your asparagus, then in one swift, humane motion, cut their heads off. It’s the same as cutting the tips off, but say you’ve had a bad day at work; it’s so satisfying to just whop the head off of something. Set the tips or heads aside, and then chop the asparagus stems into ¼ to ½” slices. No, put the ruler back in the drawer; just chop into small, bite size pieces.
Grate the cheese into a bowl and set aside. If you can’t find ricotta salata, use something else mild and young or you could even use parmigiana if that’s what you have in the house.
Put the pasta water on to boil. Put another small pot of water onto boil because you are going to blanch and shock the asparagus. Unlike “Shock and Awe”, this actually works. The asparagus will turn a bright, beautiful green and stay that way.
As the little pot of water comes to a boil, add a bit of salt and toss in the asparagus tips, let the water come back to a boil, remove the tips and run cold water over them. Set aside. Do the same thing with the chopped asparagus stems (boil for a moment, drain, run cold water over the bits, drain again).
In a pan large enough to hold the pasta, add a few tablespoons of olive and the last clove of garlic only this time peel it and crack with your hand. (Lay the garlic clove on the cutting board, press down hard and fast with the heel of your hand, wait to feel the satisfying crack.) When the garlic clove starts to sizzle in the pan, add the asparagus tips and gently sauté for 2-3 minutes. Remove and keep warm (that just means put them in the oven with the roasted tomatoes). By now, the pasta water has boiled, you are cooking your pasta and its about 2 minutes away from being done.
Sauté the chopped asparagus, just like you did with the tips, only leave them in the pan. Take a small ladle full of the pasta water and add it to the chopped asparagus.
Drain the pasta and add it to the asparagus, and add the cheese. Remove the roasted garlic from the tomatoes, slip the skins off and mush the soft garlic into the pasta. Now toss everything together.
Arrange the tips on a plate, add the pasta, and decorate the dish with the roasted tomatoes, pouring any extra tomato juice onto the pasta. Grate a little lemon peel over the whole thing. Stand back; admire your design, add a few grinds of fresh pepper and then eat!
Pasta in the springtime!