Pasta Primavera showcases spring vegetables

With spring here and fresh local vegetables bountiful at farmers’ markets, a classic pasta dish celebrates the season.

“Primavera” (“spring” in Italian), or correctly “alla primavera,” indicates that early vegetables dress the pasta, like asparagus, carrots, turnips, radishes, broccoli, spinach or peas. Heavier summer vegetable flavors –- tomato, pepper, eggplant, green beans — are avoided. “Spring,” however, does not necessarily mean “lite.” Pasta Primavera can be substantial.

The sauce is quick to cook, though it involves some prep. Almost any mixture of spring or early summer vegetables will work. Firmer ones, cut evenly, start the cooking. Then less firm ones are added. Finally, young spinach and tender peas, if used, are added, along with cream, seasonings, and cheese.

“Farfalle” pasta seems most appropriate. Literally “butterflies” in Italian (boringly, “bow-ties” in English), farfalle maintains the garden theme, and exudes the warm humor of Italian food names.

Which cheese to use is an individual choice. In northern Italy, Parmesan, a cows’ milk cheese, is more likely. In southern Italy, it would be Pecorino Romano, tangier and made from sheep’s milk. Having grown up around Sicilians, I prefer Romano. Since the cheese is important to the dish, it is best grated fresh from a chunk.

In Italy, small portions of pasta form a starter course for a dinner. In the American manner, a large serving of pasta is the main course.

Accompany Pasta Primavera with crusty bread, olive oil to dip it in, and a simple green salad. Because of the cheese, I would choose a light to medium-bodied, fairly dry red wine, like a Chianti, or Pinot Noir. The recipe serves six.

Pasta Primavera

  • 12 ounces “short” pasta, like bow-ties (“farfalle”) or penne
  • Choose 4 of the following vegetables, 1-1/2 cups each except for spinach: 1/2-inch-diced young carrots, turnips (peeled); quartered radishes; asparagus in 1-inch lengths; 1/2-inch flowerets of broccoli; young (or frozen) peas; 4 cups washed, coarsely cut young spinach
  • 1 small young onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon of any mixture of fresh herbs, finely minced
  • 1 cup coarsely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, split
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • Large pinch cayenne
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1/4 cups half-and-half cream

Boil a gallon of water for pasta in large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Let simmer, covered, until needed.

Prepare vegetables, onion, garlic, parsley, fresh herbs, and cheese. Mix 1 teaspoon salt plus the nutmeg. black pepper and cayenne in a cup.

Heat olive oil in large pan and briefly fry onion plus carrot, if used, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt for 2 minutes, stirring very frequently. Add turnip and/or radish, if used, and stir and fry for another minute. Add 4 tablespoons water, cover, and steam, stirring occasionally, until vegetables become tender (test by piercing with a toothpick). Add broccoli and/or asparagus, if used, plus another tablespoon or two of water. Cook one minute, covered, stirring occasionally.

Add half-and-half plus the salt and spice mixture. Bring to a boil. Add peas or spinach, if used, and return just to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and parsley. Keep warm and covered.

As vegetables cook, bring the salted pasta water back to full boil. Add pasta and stir immediately so pasta does not stick together. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender to the bite. Drain in colander and transfer, hot, to large serving bowl.

Add sauce plus cheese. Toss together. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve with additional cheese. Serves six.

See this and other Tim Dondero recipes at Tim’s Special Recipes.

Tim Dondero
Tim Dondero
Tim Dondero is co-owner and executive chef at Donderos’ Kitchen, 590 N. Milledge Ave. He retired last year from his day job as a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. During his long career in international health and infectious diseases, he and his family lived for many years in Southeast Asia and West Africa. He also worked extensively in the Americas, Asia and Africa. An enthusiastic cook since childhood, he always sought out local restaurants and local cooks when traveling. Now in Athens, he devotes his time to his restaurant, catering, teaching and blogging about cooking (, and writing occasionally for BoomAthens.

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