I’m hosting a few friends for dinner to watch the Oscars this year. While I except the award show to be filled with mediocrity, my dinner will not. I wanted something bright, filling, delicious, and cheap. Feeding a lot of people adds up fast, so I like to keep costs down where possible.
Normally, I would not choose Pasta Primavera as an exciting meal, per se. More of a pathetic meal would sound more apt to its usual description. America’s Test Kitchen, however, inspired me, as the always do, to look at the usual in a different light. Cook the pasta like risotto and -BAM – awesomeness in every bite. Use the pasta’s own starch as a thickening agent – BOOM – creaminess without the heaviness.
It’s like Alfredo and Primavera had a baby. A delicious, delicious baby.
Now, most of this is directly from America’s Test Kitchen, so I don’t really deserve any credit. I made tweaks here and there to make it even more delicious, but I couldn’t have done it without ATK. I love this recipe because you can really plan ahead and do many of the steps far in advance to make serving a group of people even easier.
1 bunch Asparagus
1 cup frozen peas
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed in a garlic press
1/2 TBSP red pepper flakes
1 TBSP ginger
4 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cup water
1 TBSP mint
2 TBSP chives
1/2 TBSP rosemary
zest of 1 lemon
5 TBSP olive oil
1 box pasta, penne, cavatelli, or campanelle recommended. This won’t really work with spaghetti or a strand style pasta.
1 cup white wine. I used a pinot grigio and it was fantastic.
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 TBSP heavy cream (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
Leeks! Leeks are the sandiest thing ever next to a beach. Chop off the top two inches of outer leek area and cut off the bottom inch. Then roughly chop the top half, the darkest green area, and rinse 3 cups of it in a bowl and set aside. Then cut the remaining light green parts into 1/2 inch pieces, throw in a separate bowl, and rinse. So much easier to rinse once the leeks are in chunks.
Saute the light colored leeks over medium heat in 2 TBSP of oil for about five minutes or until the leeks brown a little, stirring periodically.
While the leeks are sauteing, snap off the ends of the asparagus. Take a stalk of asparagus and start bending from the end; it will snap naturally at the freshest point. You want to eat from the natural break to the tip. Chop the ends that you would normally discard into 1/2 inch pieces and dump into the bowl of darker leek slices. Cut the edible pieces of asparagus into 1 inch bites.
Once the leeks have cooked a bit, let go of some of their moisture, and browned a little, add the i inch asparagus pieces and crushed garlic, and stir. Continue to cook until asparagus is just tender, 2-3 minutes. Add the frozen peas and saute for an additional minute until the peas are just warmed, 1-2 minutes. Turn off heat and set the cooked veggies aside.
In a deep stock pot or sauce pan, heat up the veggie stock, water, dark leeks, asparagus, red pepper, and ginger. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
While you’re doctoring the stock, chop up the chives, mint, and rosemary, and combine with the zest of a lemon in a bowl. Set aside. Once the stock has simmered for 10 minutes, strain into a bowl. Discard the strained vegetable remnants. This step and the vegetable cooking step can be completed a couple of hours in advance if necessary. You want there to be 5 cups of rich, doctored and strained stock left. If you’re going to immediately cook the pasta, place the strained stock back into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Keep the stock warm, as it will be added to the pasta in a few minutes.
Once you’re ready to cook the pasta, heat 2 TBSP oil in a pasta pot over medium heat. Toss in your pasta of choice and brown a bit. This is similar to cooking a risotto, which gives each bite tons of flavor. This only takes about 5 minutes, but you want to stir the pasta regularly to get each piece to brown a little. once the pasta is showing signs of golden deliciousness, add the cup of white wine to the pot and stir until the pasta has completely absorbed it, about 1-2 minutes. At this point the pasta is still raw, but tastes like magic, richly buttered bread. It’s amazing.
When the wine has been absorbed, add the stock and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook for an additional 8- 10 minutes or until the pasta is done stirring every . I used Simply Smart pasta, which takes closer to 12 minutes to reach the correct texture.
At that point, turn off the heat and add the juice of one lemon. Stir. Add the 3 TBSP of heavy cream, 1/2 of the herb mixture, and grated parm, and stir well. Once the sauce has reached your desire consistency, dump in the cooked veggie mixture. I like my sauce a little thicker so I put the pot back over heat to stir for an additional 4 minutes, just until it was rich and creamy. Add the cherry tomatoes and – you guessed it – stir. You want the heat of the sauce & pasta to just warm and wilt the tomatoes. Plate each serving and sprinkle on a little of the remaining herb mixture. It’s a beautiful thing.
I topped mine with shaved parm and had a side of steamed broccolini with lemon juice as a side, because one can never have enough veggies. It. Was. INCREDIBLE. It can serve 6 reasonable people or 4 hungry ones.