Sunday, May 15, 2016

Le Cirque: Spaghetti Primavera

Ever since I had some sort of boxed pasta primavera salad as a child and enjoyed it, I've wondered what exactly makes something "primavera".  So I looked up the word, and primavera means the season of spring.  So it makes sense that this dish includes all sorts of lovely vegetables that can be found in the springtime.  But I couldn't make just any old pasta primavera.  I needed to find the original, the ultimate, the one that started all of our silly primavera fantasies.  And not shockingly, this Italian-American pasta dish comes from Le Cirque in New York City, a French restaurant started by an Italian.  That's not a confusing background or anything.  But history lessons aside, I can guarantee this is a delicious dish to make when the green is starting to appear and the coats go back in the closet.

Note:  I think you can pretty safely use whatever spring vegetables float your boat.  I added fiddlehead ferns and ramps to mine, as they seem like the ultimate spring veggies in a land where asparagus seems to grow all year long.  For the chili I used a Fresno, but I definitely think I could have gone hotter.  Also, I used linguine, not spaghetti.  Not that it matters.

Spaghetti Primavera
From Le Cirque restaurant, as appeared in The New York Times, 1977

1 bunch broccoli
2 small zucchini, unpeeled
4 asparagus spears
1½ cups green beans
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
¾ cup fresh or frozen sugar snap pea pods
1 tablespoon peanut, vegetable, or corn oil
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced hot red or green chili, or ½ teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups 1-inch tomato cubes
6 basil leaves, chopped
1 pound spaghetti
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream, approximately
½ cup grated Parmesan
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts

Trim broccoli and break into florets. Trim off ends of the zucchini. Cut into quarters, then cut into 1-inch or slightly longer lengths (about 1½ cups). Cut each asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Trim beans and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Cook each of the green vegetables separately in boiling salted water to cover until crisp but tender. Drain well, then run under cold water to chill, and drain again thoroughly. Combine the cooked vegetables in a bowl.

Cook the peas and pods; about 1 minute if fresh; 30 seconds if frozen. Drain, chill with cold water and drain again. Combine with the vegetables.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the peanut oil and add the mushrooms. Season to taste. Cook about 2 minutes, shaking the skillet and stirring. Add the mushrooms, chili, and parsley to the vegetables.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add half the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook about 4 minutes. Add the basil.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the remaining garlic and the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through.

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until almost (but not quite) tender, retaining a slight resilience in the center. Drain well.

In a pot large enough to hold the spaghetti and vegetables, add the butter and melt over medium-low heat. Then add the chicken broth and half a cup each of cream and cheese, stirring constantly. Cook gently until smooth. Add the spaghetti and toss quickly to blend. Add half the vegetables and pour in the liquid from the tomatoes, tossing over very low heat.

Add the remaining vegetables. If the sauce seems dry, add 3 to 4 tablespoons more cream. Add the pine nuts and give the mixture a final tossing.

Serve equal portions of the spaghetti mixture in hot soup or spaghetti bowls. Spoon equal amounts of the tomatoes over each serving. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a main course; 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

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