As I tasted the Pasta Primavera at New York City’s Le Cirque 2000, restaurateur Sirio Maccioni told me the story of classic dish.
Sirio was hunting on Roberts Island in Nova Scotia with, among others, Craig Claiborne, the late New York Times food editor. “We were invited to hunt wild boar and pigeon and then to make a meal of pigeon, lobster and wild boar,” Sirio told me. After three days of eating meat, Sirio and the others wanted pasta. “I went to the kitchen, and all the goods were frozen,” said Sirio. “Spaghetti Alfredo was very popular in those days. So I took what frozen mixed vegetables there were, mostly broccoli and peas, and mixed them with the spaghetti and porcini mushrooms. I made an improvised Alfredo sauce over it with cream, cheese and butter with a touch of garlic and basil. We never put it on the menu at the Colony, where I was working at the time, because our very intelligent French chef didn’t want to contaminate the menu with this Italian recipe.”
Even at Le Cirque, Sirio’s own highly successful restaurant, Pasta Primavera is not on the menu. But whenever anyone asks for it, the chefs make it at tableside. The only difference is that today the chefs add a little mascarpone cheese to the cream. You can use whatever vegetables are in your refrigerator. Sirio did.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
3 medium red, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper to taste
Pasta and Alfredo Sauce:
1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini
1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
2 small zucchini, cut into 2-inch matchstick slices (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 asparagus spears, cut into thirds after breaking off their tough ends
2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter
Pine nuts (optional)
1. To make tomato topping, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic and tomatoes; cook about 4 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break up tomatoes any more than necessary. Stir in basil, salt and pepper to taste.
2. Cook spaghetti in boiling water until al dente—almost but not quite tender. Drain well, and set aside.
3. While spaghetti is cooking, make Alfredo sauce. Gently heat chicken broth, mascarpone cheese and cream in a very large saucepan. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until smooth. Set aside.
4. Cook broccoli in boiling water 3 minutes. Add zucchini and asparagus and continue cooking until they are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add peas and cook 30 seconds if frozen, 1 minute if fresh. Drain vegetables well.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet; add vegetables, salt, pepper, pepper flakes and parsley. Cook until thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes, stirring gently. Add butter; toss gently.
6. Add spaghetti to Alfredo sauce; toss to coat. Add vegetables, tossing and stirring over very low heat.
7. Serve spaghetti topped with the tomato topping. Garnish with pine nuts, if desired. Serves 6.
Recipe by Joan Nathan
Per serving: 650 calories, 31g fat, 21g prot., 72g carbs., 9g fiber, 680mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn