Sunday, April 22, 2018

Early Spring Pasta with Asparagus, Peas & Mushrooms

It isn’t really “early” spring anymore.  We are a full third of the way in.  Usually I would call that mid-spring.  But this year, here in the mid-western United States, it still looks and feels like the very early days of spring—chilly and wet, with new bright green grass….and the very beginnings of green visible in the trees.  In most years we have had a full display of the glories of the spring blooming trees and bulbs by now.  So far this year I’ve only seen daffodils and the cold-hardy hellebores in my garden.

I have been grateful to have had the luxury of leaving the detritus of fall and winter on my flower beds longer than usual.  But as I have begun to work in the garden during the last few days, I am aware that spring is going to pop the minute we get warm.  And when it does, it’s going to happen at hyper-speed.  Other things that need attention will, for a short while, receive quite a bit less.  Which brings me to today’s post.

I don’t know when this quick little pasta appeared in my repertoire, but I can find pictures of it…and variations thereof…dating back several years.  I’m not sure why I never shared it before.  I always begin to make it sometime in March—right about the time the asparagus from California starts showing up in the grocery store…and the little bags of fresh peas start showing up at Trader Joe’s.  During the very early days of spring, when I’m super tired of winter’s vegetables, these two items are great to have on hand…and I use them regularly for our evening meals.  They are wonderful with mushrooms, and the three in combination are perfect in pilafs, salads, frittatas…and quick pastas.

This pasta should be seen as a template for a basic, spring vegetable, pantry pasta.  You can replace the thyme with tarragon…or even rosemary.  The dish is nice with a little parsley thrown in at the end too.  Dill would also be delicious added at the end—it just isn’t something I usually have in my pantry.  I happened to have pancetta when I made it this time, but if you have prosciutto, you can use that.   Just start the scallions/spring onions in a bit more oil or butter and add the julienne (or minced) prosciutto with the asparagus and peas.  If you have fava beans, they would be delicious in place of the peas.  If you need a bit more protein (because you’ve spent the whole day digging, mulching and hauling in the garden….or straining your brain and your patience over your taxes…), this pasta would make a great bed for a nice piece of salmon…or a boneless chicken breast. 

Besides being delicious, versatile and an early harbinger of the delicacies of the spring market to come, this pasta is very quick to make—from raw ingredients to table in about 30 minutes.  I guess you could say it’s an all around perfect dinner for even the busiest of spring days. 

Orecchiette with Mushrooms, Asparagus & Peas

1 T. olive oil, divided
1 oz. minced pancetta
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 T. butter, divided
2 to 3 spring onions or scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1/3 to 1/2 c.—use equal quantity of white and green portion)
1/2 T. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 c. peas
2 oz. (trimmed weight) asparagus, cut on a short diagonal 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick (to make 1/2 cup)
1/2 c. chicken stock or water
1/2 lb. orecchiette
1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Parmesan

Render the pancetta in 1/2 T. of the olive oil in a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer and also accommodate the cooked pasta) set over medium low heat.  When then pancetta is crisp (after about five minutes) remove to a plate.  Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium high.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and tender (about five minutes).  Season with salt & pepper and reduce the heat to medium. 

Add a half tablespoon of the butter to the pan.  Add the spring onions, along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until wilted and tender—about 2 to 3 minutes.  

Add the thyme, peas, asparagus and the cooked pancetta, stirring to coat the vegetables in the onions and fat.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar and continue to simmer gently—checking occasionally to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated—until the vegetables are just tender…about 6 to 8 minutes.  Set aside until the pastas is ready.

About the time you add the stock to the vegetables, drop the pasta in a large pot of boiling well-salted water.  Cook until the noodles are al dente.  Drain the pasta, saving a half cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid.  Add the pasta to the vegetables and toss to combine.  Cut the remaining butter into 3 or 4 pieces and add.  Toss and stir the pasta until the butter has emulsified into the sauce and the noodles and vegetables are coated in a light, buttery film of sauce.  If the pasta seems dry, add enough pasta water to obtain a fluid sauce.   You may add some of the cheese to the pasta, tossing/stirring to combine—or save it all to pass at the table.

Pasta serves 2 to 3.  Recipe is easily doubled—simply choose a pan wide enough to accommodate the vegetables and pasta as described above. 

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Unknown said...

Chef Paige! This dish was DELICIOUS!!! Thank you!!!!

Paige said...

I'm so happy you liked it!! Thank you for letting me know!