Pasta Primavera is one of our favorite springtime recipes. Primavera means spring in Italian, and this dish is a wonderful example of nature’s influence in the art of food. It’s light and fresh, a perfect blend of pasta, vegetables, colors and aromatics. It’s a dish that caters to the creative cook as you can vary the vegetables, pasta noodles, and even the sauce to reflect your mood and make the dish your own.
It also comes with an interesting back story. Pasta Primavera was created in the late 1970s at the famed New York City French restaurant, Le Cirque, and was promptly hailed by the New York Times as “by far, the most talked-about dish in Manhattan.” This much we know, but dig a little deeper and it becomes difficult to find a definitive story about the origins of this dish.
Some sources attribute its creation to a collaboration of Sirio Maccioni, Le Cirque’s owner, Ed Giobbi, an American artist and cook, and Jean Vergnes, Le Cirque’s then-head chef. Other reports credit Mr. Maccioni’s wife, Egidiana, with the idea. Some foodies muse that the mystery of its origin speaks to a larger story about a culinary culture war between Italy (Mr. Maccioni) vs. France (Chef Vergne).
Oddly, though wildly popular at Le Cirque, this dish was never featured on the restaurant’s menu, a fact which may lend credence to the legend that Chef Vergnes so disliked this dish, he insisted his cooks prepare it in the hallway. Even Mr. Maccioni’s own story has changed over the years. What is not disputed is the fact that this humble dish left its mark on the American culinary world in a big way.
Our recipe differs from the original dish as we lean toward an Italian culinary point-of-view (go Italy!), embracing olive oil over cream, penne noodles over spaghetti, and a different combination of vegetables.
We recommend taking a simple and consistent approach to this dish. While you may vary the type of pasta noodles, it’s important to match the cut of the vegetables to the shape of the pasta. For long noodles like spaghetti, linguini and fettuccine, cut the vegetables in long, thin strips, julienne style. For shorter, fatter noodles, cut the vegetables in smaller pieces to better complement the pasta.
Tony cannot stress enough the importance of seasoning the pasta water with salt, a step often overlooked by home cooks. Add at least one to two tablespoons of kosher salt to the water before it reaches a boiling point. Throw in the pasta and cook until al dente, an Italian term which means “to the tooth,” and is described as “having a firm bite.”
Olive oil is a key component of this dish, so use a good quality, extra-virgin variety. A good rule of thumb when cooking the vegetables is to begin with those that will require more cooking time, such as carrots and onions. Add other vegetables, like mushrooms, peas, and tomatoes later, after deglazing the pan with white wine. Leafy items, like spinach, should be held until the end, as they wilt quickly. And always use fresh parmesan cheese to garnish.
We’re sharing our own version of pasta primavera today, but encourage you to play around with it and get creative at home. Who knows? You just might create a dish great enough to inspire a legend, or two.
Pasta Primavera RECIPE
WATCH Tony make Pasta Primavera