Pasta Primavera (Penne with Spring Vegetables)

pasta primavera

I love a good pasta—and who doesn't? I'm always trying to cook more seasonally, especially since I live in an area where I can only get certain fruits and vegetables when they're in season. So, unfortunately I will never find watermelon in winter. But that's OK, because I've come to appreciate the seasons and seasonal produce even more. So, now with spring in full swing, I wanted to make a pasta dish that celebrates the season's bounty of beautiful vegetables. That's how this pasta primavera was born.

In Italian the word primavera literally means "spring." So technically this pasta recipe should be made with spring vegetables to live up to its name. At least that's how I look at it. I actually do a dish in the summer that comes together similarly to this one, but using summer vegetables. I'll post about that one when the time comes. But, in the meantime, this is my spring pasta recipe, celebrating the season with spring garlic, spring onions, asparagus, radishes, and peas.

spring vegetables

Now, you might not have heard of or even seen spring garlic or spring onions, unless you're a regular at the farmers' market. This is how garlic and onions look like when they're fresh. In this state, you can eat the whole thing: stem, greens, bulb and all. There's no having to peel the outer layer of garlic or onion to get to the inside. If you see these at the market, pick them up, because they're great in any recipe where you would need garlic or onion. You'll get a mellower flavor, especially with the spring garlic, but it's so pleasant, especially if you're not a fan of a strong garlic flavor.

And radishes! Did you ever think you could cook radishes!? Yes, you can! And, not just the roots, but the greens, too. The radish roots work like a sponge, absorbing flavors from the rest of the pasta dish, like the savory pancetta. And the radish greens easily wilt into the dish. That reminds me: One thing to keep in mind is don't skip the prep with this dish. Wash all the fresh produce thoroughly to make sure there's no sand in anything at all. There's nothing worse than a gritty bite of asparagus.

And, by all means, feel free to use this recipe as a jumping off point. You can, and should, personalize it to your liking. So, if you find a vegetable you like better that you'd like to use, like green beans, go right ahead. Enjoy your pasta primavera, and happy spring!

Pasta Primavera

1 small bunch radishes with greens
1/2 bunch asparagus
1 head spring garlic with greens
1 large spring onion with greens
1 pound peas
6 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
12 ounces penne rigate
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus more for serving
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup mint leaves

Cut the radish greens from the radish roots. Trim the asparagus into 1-inch pieces, discarding the tough ends. Add the radish greens and roots and the asparagus to a salad spinner, cover with cold water, and let soak thoroughly to remove sand and dirt. Drain and soak again repeatedly until you see no sand in the bowl of the salad spinner. Cut the radish roots into quarters or halves, depending on their size.

Trim the greens off the spring garlic (reserve for another use), cut lengthwise, and slice. Cut the greens from the spring onion, and wash the greens thoroughly to remove any sand and dirt. Split the onion bulb and stem lengthwise, and slice. Slice the greens.

Shell the peas. You should have about 3/4 to 1 cup of peas. Give them a rinse.

Warm a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and fry until nearly crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove half (the crispiest bits) to a plate and reserve for the garnish.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season liberally with salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.

Raise the heat under the skillet to medium-high. Add the chopped garlic and onion and saute for 1 to 3 minutes. Add the radish roots and saute for about 1 to 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and saute for about 1 to 3 minutes. Add the peas and saute for about 1 to 3 minutes. Add a half ladle of pasta water to help soften the vegetables and continue cooking. Then add the radish greens, tossing them until they wilt.

Add the cooked penne to the skillet, tossing the pasta with the vegetables. Add a ladleful of pasta water to help the pasta finish cooking with the vegetables. Check the seasoning and season with salt and pepper.

Off the heat, add the grated parmesan and the fresh herbs. Toss together. Serve the pasta with additional parmesan cheese and a topping of the reserved crispy pancetta. Yield: 4 servings.


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