Published May 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
When the original primavera method took hours—and produced washed-out vegetables and stodgy sauce—we found inspiration in an entirely different classic.
The usual reproduction of this classic Italian dish is nothing more than a jumble of produce tossed with noodles in a heavy, flavor-deadening sauce that tastes nothing like spring.
We wanted a true spring vegetable pasta—with a few thoughtfully chosen vegetables and a light but full-bodied sauce that clung well to the noodles and brought the dish together.
We wanted a variety of vegetables but not so many that the dish was unbalanced. We landed on a pair of spring classics—asparagus and green peas—plus garlic and leeks for their aromatic depth and sweetness, chives for their fresh bite and oniony overtones, and mint, a natural match for peas. Instead of painstakingly blanching each vegetable individually, we found that sautéing them in stages in a large Dutch oven ensured that each one maintained its crisp-tender texture while taking on a touch of flavorful browning.
But the vegetables alone weren’t enough to give the dish deep flavor. For that, we took a cue from the Italian risotto technique, in which raw rice grains “toast” for a few minutes in hot fat before the liquid is added, taking on a nutty richness. This method sounded promising, but we couldn’t toast long spaghetti strands without breaking them up first. Instead we changed the shape of the noodle to bell-shaped campanelle, which toasted nicely and held on to the sauce without clinging to one another or compressing into a mass.
Now that we had the right noodle, we focused on perfecting our cooking technique. After sautéing the vegetables, we wiped out the pot, added a splash of oil, and toasted the pasta until it started to color. Staying true to the classic risotto method, we poured in some dry white wine (its crisp acidity brightened the sauce), stirred the mixture until most of the liquid had cooked off, added the hot vegetable broth—which we had enhanced with the extra asparagus and leek trimmings before straining them out—and cranked up the heat to a boil. A few minutes later, we had what we’d been shooting for: tender pasta coated with a light but lustrous and creamy sauce that more than hinted at the sweet, grassy flavors of the vegetables.
All that was left to do was add the vegetables back into the pot and introduce a few ingredients to brighten the dish: Parmesan, lemon juice, mint, chives, and lemon zest.list of recipes