Pasta Primavera - april 6, 2010
No eggs for egg salad today, after yesterday's debacle.
I love fava beans, they are one of the first harbingers of spring at my house. Most years they are ready to harvest from my garden and appear at markets around the same time as shelling peas, asparagus and lilacs. Lilacs are my absolute favorite seasonal delight, except for lilies of the valley, both superstars of the northeastern American springtime garden. As much as I love favas, I would gladly trade a year's worth to get either of those to flower in my Californian yard.
Unlike lilacs, lily of the valley and fava beans, Pasta Primavera is something I have mixed feelings for. It is one of those foods usually more fatty and salty than good, and can range anywhere from comforting to frightening, depending on who makes it for me. Primavera means spring in Italian, so it seems strange that the usual cast of characters appearing within are not even likely to be found in the garden until summer: zucchini, pepper, carrots, onion, broccoli. Peas are the only constant player that make the cut.
But just a few days ago I found a recipe for a true springtime pasta, with fava beans, asparagus, green garlic, mint and (of course) peas! This one is from Canal House Cooking again, and is both a joy to cook and to eat. Like the name implies, it actually uses young spring vegetables, not old crufters you might find at the grocery store in January.
The ham and spaghetti appeal to kids and manly meat eaters, and the veggies aren't too hard to separate out, should someone deem them unfit for consumption. The only caveat to easy assembly are the favas and peas, so I recruit my kids to help shell them. This is the one time I encourage them to shred food, so they don't mind helping out. Getting started on those early on in the day is a good idea, they can sit out on the counter just fine and will benefit from a few minutes of attention here and there before dinnertime.
Pasta Primavera (adapted from Canal House Cooking volume 3):
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced smoked ham (if you have kids who will like this part, double it)
1 cup fava beans, shelled, then dropped for 30 seconds into boiling water, then peeled.
1 cup shelled peas
1 bunch chopped thin asparagus
1 stalk green garlic
1 pound spaghetti
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
A few finely chopped fresh mint leaves
Grated pecorino romano cheese
For starters, you can prep the fava beans and peas in advance. The peas just need to be shelled. The favas need to be shelled (the easiest way is to break the end off the bean pod, squeeze out a bean, then break it again to get to the next bean, squeeze it out, and so on). Then drop them for 30 seconds into a pot of boiling water. Drain them and dump them into a bowl of ice water. Then peel them (the easiest way is to pinch a bit of the skin off, then just squeeze the bean so it pops out of the pinched spot).
When its time to make dinner, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over medium heat. The pasta takes about ten minutes to cook, so don't start it until fifteen or so minutes before you want to eat. Instead, turn the heat down to simmer once it boils, so that your water is ready to heat up quickly when you are ready for it. Put about two Tablespoons of olive oil in a large, low sided pot or pan over medium-low heat. When it is hot (it will shimmer, but should not smoke) add the ham. Stir it around for a couple minutes until it starts to brown just a little bit, then throw in the green garlic and peas. Add about 1/2 cup of the boiling pasta water, stir it up, and let the peas simmer in it for five to ten minutes, until they seem done to you. Then add the favas and asparagus and cook it for about five minutes more. Remove the pan from heat and don't put a lid on it.
If you haven't already, put the pasta on to cook. Turn the heat back up so that the water boils vigorously, then pour it in and mix it up right away, to prevent clumping. When it is done, drain it and then put it back into the pot. Add the tomato paste and about three more Tablespoons of olive oil and stir to coat. Then add the vegetables and ham, along with any pan juices, to the spaghetti and stir it together. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve into bowls, sprinkle with the fresh mint and grate some cheese over the top.