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spring vegetable pasta

May 18, 2011

Asparagus is one of those things I refused to touch for most of my life. It was one of those things grown-ups would tell me were “an acquired taste,” to which I’d harrumph, “Well, I’m never going to acquire it!” …Or something like that that I could actually pronounce when I was little and probably wasn’t quite so clever and biting (oh yeah, queen of comebacks right here).

But um, they were maybe right? I’m still not a huge fan of asparagus on its own, but I’ll stoop to eating a few stalks when it’s been roasted, and I’ll shamelessly raid the platters of prosciutto-and-Boursin-wrapped spears Chris’s mom puts out at holiday parties. Mmm, meat and cheese.

So at first, I was a little apprehensive of trying out this recipe from the latest Cook’s Illustrated, despite the fact that it had cool, news-to-me techniques like toasting raw pasta and doctoring up boxed veggie broth. But I decided that the sauce would probably cover up any of the gross, bitter taste that I hated so much growing up, so I took the risk. (I know, guys, I know, I’m so adventurous. Try not to be intimidated.)

And you know what? It was actually kinda delicious. The asparagus got sweeter, somehow, when mixed in with the leeks (LEEEEEKS, YUM) and the peas, and the sauce was, as the article said, almost creamy, despite the fact that there really wasn’t anything that unhealthy in it at all (although I’m sure you could change that if you wanted, and maybe I will next time…hmmm, bacon, anyone?). Plus, I got to toast pasta. Win!

Spring Vegetable Pasta
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups); 3 cups roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 lb. asparagus, tough ends snapped off, chopped coarsely, and reserved; spears cut on bias into 1/2-inch-long pieces
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed [I actually left most of this out—gasp!—because the handy-dandy jar of pre-pressed garlic in our fridge was running low, and I don’t think the flavor suffered *too* much, but I’m sure it could only add to the tasty]
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
table salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 lb. campanelle, farfalle, or penne
1 cup dry white wine
1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)

1. Place dark green leek trimmings, asparagus trimmings, 1 cup peas, 2 teaspoons garlic, vegetable broth, and water in large saucepan. Bring to simmer over nigh heat, then lower heat to medium-low and gently simmer 10 minutes. While broth simmers, combine mint, chives, and lemon zest in small bowl; set aside.
2. Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have 5 cups broth; add water as needed to measure 5 cups). Discard solids and return broth to saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced leek and pinch salt; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus pieces and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining cup peas and continue to cook 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to plate and set aside. Wipe out pot.
4. Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.
5. When wine is fully absorbed [or when you get tired of standing over the pot, yelling at the last dredges of wine to get lost], add hot broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
6. Remove pot from heat, stir in lemon juice, Parmesan, half of herb mixture, and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan cheese and remaining herb mixture separately.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated

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