Pasta primavera is a classic. The Italian name translates to “spring pasta,” and it’s usually linguine, bathed in heavy cream, and studded with an assortment of seasonal vegetables.
As simple as it sounds, it can become quite a production. I’ve seen recipes in which six various vegetables were carefully blanched, separately, so that each would be perfectly al dente, all while cooking up that hefty white sauce to drown them in.
That’s not really a quick and easy proposition. It also seems like the last thing you’d crave when weather is warming.
Instead, I propose that we simplify, lighten up and make a springtime pasta that can be put on the table with minimum fuss.
In a forager’s spring, some of the first things to pop up are asparagus and mushrooms. I like shiitakes in this recipe for their meaty, chewy presence once they are seared and browned. You can also use other favorite mushrooms, such as oyster or even the common button, as long as you slice them thinly and use a hot pan.
To show off asparagus to its best effect, always treat the tips and stems as separate components. Just chop the tips off in 1-inch pieces and set them aside, then slice your way down the stems until you get to the tough bases. Asparagus varies in size, from pencil-thin to spears as wide as an inch or two. Contrary to a popular myth, neither size has better flavor. Asparagus is a perennial plant, and as the root “crowns” age, they produce wider and wider spears.
To complement the meaty mushrooms and grassy, nutty asparagus, a sprinkle of fresh lemon zest adds sparkle. Bright green peas are sweet and tender, and add another spring veggie, with no chopping. Fresh parsley adds peppery, herbal flavor and more green to the dish.
Don’t be tempted to skimp on the olive oil as it’s essential to coat the pasta. Fat carries flavor, so when you sauté the mushrooms, asparagus, garlic and lemon zest, their flavors infuse the oil and it carries through the whole dish.
A shower of freshly grated Parmesan finishes the dish, and if you are vegan, sub a combo of panko and chopped almonds, or your favorite Parmesan substitute.
This easy pasta is right on time for spring.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.