Ramped up pasta primavera

Spring is here! Max and I went to celebrate one of our first nice days at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A lot of other people had the same idea, however, and it was quite crowded. But we had a nice time looking at the blossoms and greenhouse exhibits and walking around the park.

If you follow the food blog circuit, you probably know that spring also means something important in the foraging world: ramps. You may even be sick of hearing about ramps. It seems that New Yorkers cannot get enough of them, maybe against our own best interest. They are the only local vegetable that is growing this early and NYC chefs are wild about them.

If you don’t know what they are (and even if you do) the fuss can seem a little overwhelming: they look similar to scallions and leeks but have a more garlicky taste. The oniony-garlicky aroma they produce as you cook them is a key element of their charm. Plus, they go well in a variety of dishes and are quite easy to prepare. Here are some, below.

The bulb and leaves are both edible, and the leaves are a strange shape for an onion relative: instead of cylindrical, they look almost like tulip leaves (Max suggested they look like tail feathers).

Intrigued, I decided to incorporate them into a recipe I had seen in Cook’s Illustrated for Pasta Primavera. There were two basic ideas in the recipe: the first, to eliminate the heavy cream sauce that drowns out the vegetables. The second big change is to cook the pasta in a traditional risotto style, first lightly toasting the uncooked pasta in oil and then adding in wine, waiting for the pasta to absorb it, and adding in broth cup by cup until the pasta is cooked to your taste and there is a very delicate “sauce” from the reduced wine and broth. I was intrigued by the notion for a few reasons: I’ve been wanting to eat more vegetables (we usually have a vegetable side dish but it’s generally just salad or one vegetable, either sauteed or roasted), and I my curiosity was piqued by the risotto method. Plus, it seemed like a great recipe to prepare ramps in, even if the fine folks at Cook’s hadn’t thought of it!

I unfortunately misplaced my copy of Cook’s, though, so I had to adjust this a bit for what I had on hand and how I remembered the recipe.

“Ramped” up Pasta Primavera (for 2)

Ingredients

1/2 lb cavatappi (or other dry pasta–but cavatappi is literally “spring” shaped!)

1 qt vegetable or chicken broth

1 bunch asparagus

2 bunches ramps

1 leek

1/2 bunch broccoli rabe (about 2 cups)

1 cup peas, divided

about 6-8 small white mushrooms, sliced and minced

1 cup wine

2 tablespoons minced mint

2 tablespoons minced parsley

juice from 1/2 lemon

≈4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 cup grated parmesan or grana padano

Directions

1) Heat the broth in medium-large pot. While the broth is heating, slice the asparagus into coins, leaving most of the head intact. Reserve the inedible/stringy bottoms of the asparagus and put them in the broth, reserve the rest of the asparagus in a bowl.

2) Slice the leek up as well, even the dark green top. Make sure it’s clean, first! Leeks hide dirt well and it’s difficult to clean them after you start cutting. Add the sliced leek to the broth.

3) Add the broccoli rabe and half the peas to the broth as well.

4) Cover the broth and let it simmer over low heat. In the meantime, chop up the ramps and mushrooms and put them in the same bowl as the asparagus. Also put the remaining peas in that bowl. Now would be a good time to mince the herbs and grate the cheese.

5) After about twenty minutes, test a spoonful of the broth. It should be much richer, with elements of the vegetables you’ve added to it. In the picture above, you can see I didn’t add the vegetables directly to the pot, but had them in submerged strainer. This was to make it easier to reserve the broth and toss out all the boiled vegetables. If you don’t have one, strain the broth through a colander but do so over a pot so you don’t lose any broth. Instead of throwing out all the vegetables, you can keep a few pieces of broccoli rabe and put them in the bowl with the chopped asparagus, mushrooms, peas and ramps if you want the rabe in your pasta.

6) In a pot with a large bottom or in a dutch oven, heat about 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat for about a minute. Add the vegetables from the bowl (asparagus, mushrooms, peas, ramps–in that order, if possible) and saute until just soft. Remove the vegetables and wipe off the pot with a paper towel.

7) Add the remaining olive oil, and then pour the pasta directly into the pan. Stir constantly so that the pasta is uniformly coated with oil, and when the pasta begins to turn golden (don’t let it brown), add the cup of wine.

8) Continue stirring the pasta until the wine is absorbed. When the wine is nearly completely absorbed, add a cup of broth. Continue stirring until that cup is absorbed and add more broth. Continue stirring and adding broth until the pasta is just al dente (or is totally mushy if that’s how you like it, but if it is–why?). This will not take as long as risotto, fortunately! The pasta should be done in under 15 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables and stir until well combined.

9) Add about half the cheese and stir until melted. Stir in the lemon juice.

10) Plate the pasta, garnishing with the chopped mint and parsley and remaining grated cheese, to taste.

Ready for the close up?

This dish was delicious! I was so excited to have some leftovers for the next day’s lunch, too. I really felt like the brightness of spring was in my bowl! It was certainly worth the extra preparation time, and I ended up with enough leftover broth to freeze so I can make this again soon.

There were lots of complementary flavors, and the zing and crispness of the wine, mint and lemon really brought the dish alive. I think this is a big improvement on the dish we usually see as “pasta primavera” in restaurants, where the vegetables are completely muted by the cream sauce.

I’m excited to make this throughout the season especially as new vegetables become available. And soon it won’t even be pasta primavera, but time for pasta estate (summer pasta).

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the blossoms.

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