The other day I told Andrew I wanted to cook “Pasta Primavera” for dinner. He was a little leery and asked if the recipe didn’t call for heavy cream. I had to admit that the original dish, when I first tasted it at the old Le Cirque, where it was invented in 1974, I seemed to recall swimming in cream sauce. But right after he left for work, there was Mario Batali, who recently lost something like 20 lbs., preparing a Pasta Primavera with no cream whatsoever—just a reasonable amount of heart-healthy olive oil. It’s from Mario’s new and ninth cookbook “Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking”. And this recipe sure fits that bill.
Mario looked fairly trim and certainly noticeably smaller than the last time I saw him. He claims he’s lost the weight through portion control. I have to believe that he’s also trimmed a few things from his diet—perhaps, say, heavy cream? And there he was creating the perfect Spring dish. (“Primavera” means “Spring” in Italian.) And it’s a perfect opportunity to use the first Spring vegetables in a colorful, completely vegetarian way. I was able to easily find everything on Mario’s grocery list with the exception of morel mushrooms. But the alternative Cremini mushrooms Mario recommended stood in nicely. The point is you can really make this dish with any firm, fresh vegetable. Brocoli, onions, bell peppers, even tomatoes can be used.
I stuck with beautiful California asparagus, Fava beans, carrots, frozen peas, scallions—everything on Mario’s list. It was starting out to be fairly inexpensive until I hit the herbs that are incorporated at the last minute. Fresh Mint and Fresh Basil aren’t cheap but with Italian parsley, they make a big flavor difference that’s well worth experiencing. I am not loaded with pictures here: the dish is very quickly cooked and didn’t give me a lot of time to get the camera out. But do give this a shot. It’s absolutely delicious! Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Pasta Primavera alla Mario Batali
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick
4 ounces morels, halved if large, or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 ounces asparagus, stalks sliced 1/2-inch thick on a bias, tips reserved separately
1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed if frozen
1 cup fava beans
4 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
Maldon or other flaky sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound penne rigate
/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until barely golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the carrots, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the sliced asparagus and the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, then add the asparagus tips, peas, fava beans, and scallions, season well with Maldon salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until all the vegetables are just tender, about 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.
Bring 6 quarts of water to boil. Add 4 tbsps. Kosher salt. Add 16 oz of pasta.
Boil for ten minutes, remove pasta and drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the vegetables, stirring and tossing over medium heat to mix well. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and allow to steam together for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and a splash or two more of the reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce, then stir in the herbs and serve immediately, with grated Parmigiano on the side.