Pasta Primavera

I first tasted Pasta Primavera at Le Cirque, the celebrity-obsessed restaurant in New York City. It was a signature dish, in which the pasta could never be too thin or its sauce too rich. Angel hair pasta was mixed with assorted vegetables, including mushrooms and green peas, then drenched in buttery cream sauce and, finally, blanketed with cheese. The dish embodied the excesses of an era.

Now, I make an updated version of Pasta Primavera that better fits today’s desire for new pleasures and a concern for healthful eating. My dish combines asparagus and baby green peas, two quintessential spring vegetables, with the bowtie pasta called farfalle, “butterflies” in Italian, and a touch of lemon.

Dishes with asparagus always make me think of spring, probably because along with peas, it is the season’s first edible expression of renewal. Also, it is botanically related to tulips, another spring favorite as well as fellow member of the lily family.

With wild asparagus found all over Asia and Europe, no one is positive where this unique vegetable originated. Most likely, it was somewhere around the Mediterranean, where it was already being cultivated by the ancient Greeks over 2000 years ago.

Researching asparagus, I learned from The Organic Cook’s Bible by Jeff Cox that every spear has a set number of tough fibers running along its length. In the eternal debate over thin vs. thick spears, this means that fat ones will seem more tender because there is more flesh, while skinny ones seem to have more concentrated flavor. Whichever you prefer, overcooking is the worst sin. It turns asparagus limp and destroys its fresh, elegant flavor.

In this new Primavera, frozen green peas are fine but, for best flavor, fresh lemon juice is essential. You can keep it dairy-free, but I like to finish this dish with cheese, adding either a sprinkling of freshly-grated Asiago or about a tablespoon of fresh goat cheese, which I mix in until it melts.

Bow-Tie Pasta with Asparagus, Lemon and Peas

3 cups (6 oz.) bow-tie pasta
8 asparagus, stems trimmed
1/2 cup frozen baby green peas
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. lemon juice, preferably fresh
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions until it is al dente. While the pasta cooks, cut off the asparagus tips and slice the stalks diagonally into 3/4” pieces. Drain the pasta in a colander, and return it to the hot pot. Immediately mix the asparagus and peas into the hot pasta. Add the oil, zest and lemon juice, and mix again. Season the pasta to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the parsley.

Divide the pasta among 4 bowls and serve, accompanied by the cheese. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 208 calories, 4 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat), 36 g. carbohydrate, 7 g. protein, 3 g. dietary fiber, 4 mg. sodium.

The Author:

AICR’s Nutrition Hotline is a free service that allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. Access it on-line at or by phone (1-800-843-8114) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday-Friday. AICR is the only major cancer charity focused exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. It provides education programs that help Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers. It has provided more than $86 million for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR’s Web address is

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