Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spring Pasta


There's nothing like a nice plate of pasta primavera to satisfy one's craving for all of spring's delights.  (Primavera means springtime in Italian, after all.) The combination of al dente spaghettini or linguini, and crisp-fresh vegetables is both divine and comforting, in an "all's well with the world" kind of way.

The choice of vegetables is completely up to you, but in honour of Spring, may I suggest fiddleheads, asparagus, morels, and ramps? Depending on local availability, you might prefer to add peas, braised lettuce hearts, spring onions and chives or garlic chives. As the growing season advances, you can substitute baby carrots or quartered radishes for any veg no longer available locally.

The following recipe may sound like it's alot of work, but it really isn't. You can always use leftovers from a previous meal. I've written out the recipe so as to use the fewest number of pots as possible. After all, a beautiful meal is always more delightful when there is little clean-up afterwards.

Pasta Primavera
For one, multiply as needed

100g (or one portion as indicated on the package) dried, long pasta of your choice
15g (about 4 or 5) fresh morels, or any other mushroom
1 small shallot, thinly chopped, optional
5 spears green asparagus
1 small handful (10-12) fiddleheads
1 large pinch of baking soda
4 or 5 leaves of wild garlic, or 4 blades of garlic chives
butter
salt and pepper
1 splash of white wine, optional

Bring a big pot of water to the boil. This recipe is greatly simplified if you have a pasta insert for your pot (a giant sieve that fits inside your pot, so that you can remove the pasta from the pot without throwing out all the water), however you can always used thongs and a slotted spoon or spider (a large, mesh slotted spoon).

Meanwhile prep all your vegetables:
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus, wash if they seem particularly dirty.
Trim and soak fiddleheads, changing the water at least twice.
Trim and soak the morels in salted water, changing the water until there is no more trace of dirt. If the morels are large, you should cut them in half to make sure the hollow is cleaned out.
Wash wild garlic or garlic chives, and chop into thin (½cm/ ¼") slivers.

When the water comes up to the boil, add about a tablespoon of salt. Throw in the asparagus. Cook for about 3 minutes (or more if you prefer softer spears), remove from boiling water, and refresh in cold water. Chop into bite sized pieces.
Throw the pasta in the pot. Cook according to the package, minus 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Remove a mugful of pasta water from the pot, and set aside.
Add baking soda to the pot, throw in the fiddleheads. Cook for 4 minutes. Drain and cool in an ice bath.

In a frying pan, melt the butter on medium heat, and sauté the shallot if using. Add the morels, leave to bubble in the butter for about 5 minutes. Add a splash of white wine, if using, or some pasta water and cook for another 5 minutes.
Check the seasoning. 
Add the asparagus, fiddleheads and wild garlic. Stir about about until the vegetables are warmed through.
Add the pasta and another splash of pasta water.
Mix everything to coat the pasta. Bring up to a gentle boil, and serve when the pasta is nice and hot.
Enjoy with grated Parmesan, or not.

Come spring, I usually stop salting my pasta water. While it does make for very bland noodles, the leftover cooking water can be reused to water my garden. However, since this recipe also calls for fiddleheads (and thus, baking soda) the water cannot be used on plants, so salt to your heart's content!


If you are intrigued by the notion of 'braised lettuce hearts', you really should try it. While the British like their peas with mint, the French enjoy their peas with braised lettuce. It isn't as bizarre as it sounds actually: North Americans are just about the only people who eat lettuce only raw. Classic braised lettuce is made with  butterhead lettuces such as Boston or Bibb, but you can also use chopped Romaine hearts. Here is a quick version, adapted for the pasta dish.

Braised Lettuce
for 2, with pasta

1 head of lettuce, cut in quarters and washed (or chopped in 3cm/ 1" strips if using Romaine)
2 handful peas, fresh or frozen (use the smallest frozen peas you can find)
butter
chives, finely chopped
pasta water
salt and pepper

Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat.
Add peas, and roll around in the butter for about 4 minutes.
Throw in the lettuce and enough pasta water to cover the top of the peas.
Bring up to a gentle simmer.
Check the seasoning. Throw in your pasta.
Heat through. Add more pasta water if it seems a little dry.
Sprinkle in the chives and serve.

Bon app'!


P.S. I can't believe I forgot to mention it in my last post, but field rhubarb season is in full swing! Different  varieties have different harvest periods, some regions will have a spring and an autumn harvest, with a well deserved rest in the hot months of summer, while others will keep on giving. Most farmers consider rhubarb to be a bit of an incidental produce: it's there or it isn't, it won't make or break the bank, but it will always sell.  We Montrealers are very lucky in that within a 200km radius, we have a whole slew of micro-climates, combined with varied rhubarbs, we get to enjoy the tart plant straight through to October!


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