It’s SPRING!!! Well… technically, it’s been spring for over a month, but the markets are still flush with young greens, and this pasta was so good I couldn’t wait another year to share it with you. Aside from being a visual stunner, it’s loaded with a medley of flavors, textures, and tastes that evoke spring whether you eat it with your eyes open or closed.
History of Pasta Primavera
If you lived anywhere in the US during the 80’s you probably remember Pasta Primavera, along with leg warmers, Queen, and Trapper Keepers. But if the quintessential spring pasta’s popularity seemed to come out of nowhere, that’s because it did. While there’s nothing new about spring themed pasta, the dish named Pasta Primavera, is only about 40 years old.
The dish, which literally translates to “Spring Pasta” was invented by Italian chef Sirio Maccioni, who was cooking at the French restaurant Le Cirque at the time. It was a hodgepodge of spring, and summer vegetables cooked with a cream and butter sauce, originally made for a wealthy customer of his, but it was at Le Cirque where the pasta grew famous, before becoming the butt of culinary jokes about the 80’s.
Pasta Primavera Sauce
The original Pasta Primavera from Le Cirque was made with butter and cream, but this isn’t the 1970’s, and I wanted to do a lighter take on this New York classic. That’s why I’ve repurposed my green pea pesto to sauce this delightfully seasonal pasta. With sweet green peas, and savory Parmigiano-Reggiano, this kelly green pesto is brimming with so much flavor you won’t miss the cream. If you add in the time to make the pesto I know this isn’t exactly a quicky, but the pesto freezes well, so I recommend making a big batch and then portioning and freezing it. That way you can revisit spring, well into summer.
Spring Veggies and Flowers
Although the original Pasta Primavera included spring veggies like asparagus and green peas, it also included a jumble of vegetables from other seasons like tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms. I wanted a simpler spring pasta that reflected the season both in taste and appearance, which is why I opted for a medley of asparagus, snap peas and spring onions. By quickly blanching the asparagus and snap peas before boiling the pasta, it locks their vibrant green color in and retains their crisp texture.
Then all that’s needed is a quick saute with some sweet spring onions to marry the veggies, pasta, and pesto. To complete spring scene I had some arugula and sage blossoms leftover from another shoot, so I garnished with the flowers. The thing is, the flowers turned out to be more than an edible garnish. The arugula flowers add a peppery bite and hint of bitterness that’s a wonderful contrast to the sweet spring veggies, while the sage blossoms add an herbal splash of sage to the dish. If you can’t find these particular blossoms, you could substitute others, or even leave them out altogether and your spring pasta will still be amazing.
For herbs, I added a few sprigs of Chervil which adds a wonderfully mild fennel flavor to the pasta, but basil, flat-leaf parsley, or tarragon would all work well here.
Finally, I had a flat of fresh bafun uni from up north sitting in my fridge, so I used it to add a splash of creamy brine to the pasta. Bafun uni is smaller and more delicate than the ordinary murasaki uni (purple uni), but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in sweetness and umami. The pasta is delicious without it, so if you want to make this vegetarian, or you’re not that adventurous, you can leave the uni out (or replace it with another protein).
Perfect Spring Pasta Shape
I used Rotini, a spiral-shaped pasta, because it’s so good at holding onto chunky pesto like this. Other curvy pasta like Fusilli, Gemelli, Campanelle, and Farfalle would work just as well, and if all you have in the pantry is spaghetti, it will do in a pinch.
Spring Pasta Salad
Pasta is usually best when hot, but this one works great as a pasta salad (minus the uni). Just follow the recipe up to step 6, and then toss everything together in a bowl along with the pesto. You can add a bit of lemon juice if you’d like but the acid will cause the green color to dull over time, so it’s best to add it just before you serve it.
Make a batch of Green Pea Pesto.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
- Blanch the asparagus and snap peas for 20 seconds and then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice bath to chill. Drain well.
- In the water, you used to blanch the vegetables, boil the pasta for one minute less than the package directions.
- Slice the blanched snap peas in half at an angle.
- When the pasta has 3 minutes left, start heating 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat until hot. Add the onions and saute until translucent, but still crisp (about a minute).
- Add the blanched snap peas and asparagus and toss to heat through. Season with salt and pepper.
- When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan with the snap peas and asparagus. Add the pesto and toss to coat evenly (you may not need all of the pesto).
- Plate the spring pasta and top with the sage flowers, arugula flowers, chervil and uni)