Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spring Vegetable Pasta

Spring marks the beginning of my favorite season for vegetables.  Peas, asparaus, artichokes, leeks, lettuce, sweet onions, and scallions to name a few.  Using the tender and fresh produce of spring is a welcome change from the root vegetables of winter, and I want a little taste of all of them.  Jasper White wrote in that fresh, locally grown produce is the holy grail of cooking.  His figure of speech couldn't be more true.  Fresh, in season produce is the most coveted component of cooking, and that is because in season fruits and vegetables not only look better and taste better, they also provide a better final product and are more reasonably priced.

This pasta dish incorporates some of my favorite spring produce:  leeks, peas, asparagus, lemon, mint, and chives.  The recipe uses vegetables that pair well with each other, following an old rule of thumb, if it grows together, it goes together.  The outcome is fresh and light, yet saucy, using no heavy cream, butter, or half and half.  It tastes like it came straight from the farmer's market.

At first glance, I thought the recipe seemed a bit fussy with browning the pasta and simmering vegetable scraps in existing vegetable broth.  However, the two "fussy" steps were actually the two aspects that I liked best about the recipe.  Browning the noodles prior to cooking, much like risotto, adds a nutty quality to the overall taste of the dish; a step that I assure you is well worth your time.  Simmering the vegetable scraps in the broth gave it an incredibly fresh taste, and when this broth is used to cook the noodles, the flavor is heightened.  These two steps are what gives the pasta its creamy texture without the cream. The final outcome is a nutty-flavored pasta with tender-crisp vegetables and a luscious sauce that tastes exactly like spring should.  Fresh.

Spring Vegetable Pasta
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3 medium leeks, white & green parts halved lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch slices; roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 pound asparagus tough ends snapped off, chopped coarsely & reserved; spears cut on bias into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups thawed frozen baby peas, divided
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons), divided
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound fusilli (or campanelle)
1 cup dry 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.  While broth simmers, combine mint, chives, and lemon zest in small bowl; set aside.

2.  Stain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup measuring cup, pressing 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 crisp-tender, 4-6 minutes.  Add remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer vegetables to plate and set aside.  Wipe out pot with paper towel.

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, 8-10 minutes.

6.  Remove pot from heat, stir in remaining 1 cup peas, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 of herb mixture, and vegetables.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper as desired.  Serve immediately, passing Parmesan cheese and remaining herb mixture separately.

Recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

Other spring vegetable recipes you might enjoy:
Asparagus and Shrimp Risotto by What's On My Plate
Pesto Pasta with Chicken, Asparagus, and Arugula by Gimme Some Oven
Shaved Asparagus with Parmesan Vinaigrette by Runs With Spatulas
Asparagus and Red Pepper Israeli Couscous Salad by Savoring the Thyme
Spring Vegetables with Shallots and Lemon by Lemons and Lavender
Spring Lasagna with Asparagus, Peas, and Stinging Needles by The Bitten Word
Sauteed Asparagus and Peas by Once Upon A Chef
Sugar Snap Pea Salad by Lick My Spoon
Farfalle Pesto with Peas by Scarpetta Dolcetta

This recipe is linked to Foodie Friday, Feature Yourself Friday, Friday Favorites, and Friday Potluck.


Lindsay said...

Yummy!! My fam loves asparagus so i like that there is a whole pound in this recipe! Thank you for sharing!

Delighted Momma

Mamahollioni said...

Lindsay--the recipe calls for a pound of asparagus, but only the tips are used for eating. The stems are used to make the broth. Adding more of the asparagus to the pasta would be an acceptable variation....let me know how it turns out if you try it that way!

drcasanova said...

Hi Holli. Love the way you presented things in your pasta-making. So clear, so concise and a so must-try. We like it. Thanks for this.