Thursday, June 11, 2015

Farm Market Finds: Pasta Primavera

Quick! Make Pasta Primavera before it's too late!

Okay, if you don't live in Michigan or another northern state, you may not understand. Heck, even in Michigan, you can pretty much get whatever produce you want, any time of year. 

But if you're like me, you appreciate vegetables that weren't trucked in across 8-10 states. It's worth the wait to get the freshest, best-tasting seasonal produce that money can buy (unless you're a better gardener than I am). It just tastes better.

Now, back to Michigan, I would say that the most prized season is spring, just because it is so stinking short. It's beautiful around here, with all the flowering trees and shrubs, new leaves and grass, and (finally!) sunny, blue skies. Along with the brief spring, we have an all-too-brief season for spring produce. I like to make the most of it, finding as many ways as possible to use asparagus before it disappears from the markets, snacking on sugar snap peas, making enough strawberry jam to fill a whole basket in my freezer, and experimenting with rhubarb in the vain hope that I will someday discover that I like it, after all.

There's hardly a better way to experience the flavors of spring than with a dish that has the season in its name. So pop a Vivaldi CD in, and let's make pasta primavera.

First off, I have to say that I don't get primavera recipes with peppers in it. Since when did peppers start ripening in May? NO PEPPERS!

My favorite recipe comes from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, so this is a modified version of their recipe.

I like lots of green in pasta primavera. When I think spring, I think green. One of the sweetest sights in late April/early May around here is the first few clumps of green grass, which slowly overtake the yellow and brown that have covered the landscape ever since the white stuff FINALLY melted. Soon, the green leaves start to pop out. It's definitely the most hopeful color of the season. So I start out by trimming a bunch (a little less than a pound) of asparagus. I like the skinny ones here.

How do you trim asparagus? I hate biting into a piece of it and finding myself chewing and chewing, finally trying to figure out how to get this twig out of my mouth without appearing too impolite. So I trim asparagus by bending it. If you grab the very base of a stalk with the fingers of one hand, and hold it right around the middle with the other hand, you can bend it and it will tend to snap right where the woody part of the stalk ends, and the tender part begins. Sometimes it will take more than you think, but you can always save the woody ends for stock.

Once trimmed, you can just cut the tender parts into bite-sized pieces and give them a quick rinse.

Next, get some sugar snap peas. Snap off the tips and pull any strings that come loose. Snap or cut them into 2-3 pieces, or small bite-sized.

Next, quarter a small zucchini lengthwise, then slice. Well, yeah.....I know zucchini isn't really a spring veggie, either. But at least it has a mild flavor that will sit in the background, whereas peppers will steal the show from the asparagus and peas.

Now it's time to cook. Put a big pot of water on to boil. While you wait, put a skillet over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon or butter. Once the butter is melted, add the asparagus and cook, tossing occasionally, for 3-4 minutes. Once tender, move the asparagus into a bowl, add another tablespoon of butter to the pan, and cook the zucchini for a couple of minutes. Remove to the same bowl, then add more butter and some mushrooms. I just use the pre-sliced white button mushrooms, but if you can find some at the farmer's markets (and can afford them!), by all means, go for it. Add a bit of salt to the mushrooms to help draw the liquid out, then toss to coat with the butter and cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, it has evaporated, and the mushrooms are just starting to brown. Now add a few cloves of minced garlic and a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes. Just make sure, before you shake, that you make sure that you have opened the correct side of the container. Because a couple of shakes out of the spoon side looks a lot different than a few shakes from the sprinkle side. Mine might have been a little spicier than I had intended.

Next, add a quart of last year's canned tomatoes (or a 29 oz can from the store). Bring them to a boil and use a spoon or spatula to break up the tomatoes, Allow them to come to a boil, and then reduce to simmer about 5 minutes.

Next, add some cream and let it heat back up, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, once the pot of water is boiling, add a good amount of salt, then cook the pasta. You can use whatever you like. Bowties work well, as does penne. I like long noodles here, so I used thin spaghetti. Set your timer for 2 minutes short of the package instructions for al dente pasta. Once the timer goes off, add the peas to the water, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Reserve a little pasta water, then drain the pasta and peas and add to the bowl with the cooked veggies. Pour the warm sauce over it all, and squeeze in a few tablespoons of lemon juice to brighten it all up. Toss well, and add some shaved parmesan. Serve warm, passing more parmesan at the table. Give it a try soon, before the crossover of asparagus and sugar snap peas ends!