Don’t look to an Italian grandmother for an old-world pasta primavera, said Peter Meehan in Lucky Peach. The precise origins of the dish are disputed, but no one denies that the now ubiquitous vegetable medley took flight in the 1970s when New York restaurateur Sirio Maccioni began serving it as an off-menu selection at “one of the most fashionable restaurants” in the world.
Maccioni says he invented the dish while traveling with friends, including New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne. Back at Le Cirque, the restaurant he founded in 1974, Maccioni prepared his primavera tableside, and “it’s not hard to imagine” what a show it was. Prep work is required in this close facsimile of Maccioni’s original dish, but it comes together impressively.
Recipe of the week
For tomato concassé:
1½ cups plum tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
Score a small X on bottom of tomatoes and drop them into a pot of simmering water for 20 seconds. Remove and plunge them in an ice bath. Peel, remove seeds, and cut into a medium dice. Heat oil in sauté pan over high heat. Add tomatoes, garlic, and pinch of salt. Cook until tomatoes have rendered most of their juice and gained color, about 10 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
For vegetables primavera:
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup asparagus tips
1 medium zucchini cut in 1-inch strips
½ cup frozen peas
While bringing a pot of water to boil, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in sauté pan over high heat. Add mushrooms, half the garlic, and pinch of salt. Toss to coat mushrooms. Moderate heat and sauté until mushrooms have given off most of their water and are nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
Salt boiling water generously. Blanch broccoli, asparagus, and zucchini for 3 minutes, then add peas. After a half-minute, strain veggies and plunge into an ice bath. Heat remaining oil over medium heat in sauté pan, add remaining garlic, and cook vegetables until they gain a little color and are still crunchy. Set aside and keep warm.
Putting it all together:
1 lb dry spaghetti
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter
2⁄³ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tbsp basil, cut into a chiffonade
Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt well, and add pasta. In a wide pan over medium heat, reduce the cream by half; add butter, Parmesan, and salt to taste. Drop heat to low. When pasta is a minute shy of cooked, strain and add to cream to finish cooking.
Transfer pasta and sauce to a warmed bowl and bring to the table, with remaining ingredients in separate bowls. Toss pasta with vegetables (including mushrooms), and divide onto plates. Garnish with pine nuts, 2 spoonfuls of tomato, and a pinch of basil. Add Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. Serves 5 to 6.