As always, or once in a while, an "old faithful" popped into mind: Pasta Primavera--or Spaghetti Primavera, as it was called back in the day.
Spaghetti Primavera is one of those recipes that is synonymous with Sirio Maccioni and his flagship place, Le Cirque. It was popularized in the late 1970s and touted by then New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne and his partner Pierre Franey. Back then, it was one of the most talked-about dishes in the City. For a dish of different vegetables, cooked separately, then added to cream and butter and served over pasta, it became a battle between French and Italian cuisines. The dish was so controversial in a formal French restaurant in 1977 that it was served only on request.
Mr. Maccioni invented the dish and it was the only one at Le Cirque that the chefs were forbidden to touch. The popularity it gained at Le Cirque helped move American cooks beyond spaghetti and meatballs; and as the dish thrived, it was soon offered on the menu of virtually every Italian restaurant. However, the authentic is Le Cirque's version.
So with the veggies in the fridge, peas in the freezer, San Marzano tomatoes in the cabinet, along with spaghetti in the dry goods storage, all I needed was fresh mushrooms, heavy cream, and broccoli spears. Although the authentic Spaghetti Primavera recipe calls for fresh asparagus tips, at $4.99 per rubber-band wrapped pack and weighing less than a pound, I opted to omit the asparagus. Besides, I had the fresh carrots and corn in lieu of the costly green. Sorry, Sirio, it's not the "authentic Spaghetti Primavera" from Le Cirque of the 70's, but pretty close.
Here goes...my take on Spaghetti Primavara, viva Le Cirque.
Ingredients:6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups plum tomatoes, chopped, peeled, and seeded (or whole canned San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz), chopped, seeded, and drained)
4 cloves garlic, minced and divided, about 2 Tablespoons
2 cups porcini mushrooms, roughly chopped
Vegetables: Each should be blanched, separately, in boiling water (time varies), shocked in an ice-water bath, drained, patted dry and set aside:
1 cup broccoli florets (2 minutes)
1 medium zucchini, quartered, cut into 1-inch lengths (2 minutes)
1 medium yellow squash, quartered, cut into 1-inch lengths (2 minutes)
1 1/2 cups carrots, halved and cut into 1" lengths (4-6 minutes)
2 cups corn kernels from fresh ears of corn (1 minute)
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed in boiling salted water. Drained and set aside
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound spaghetti
2 Tablespoons basil, cut into chiffonade
Directions:Prep all vegetables and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add tomatoes, half of the garlic, and a pinch of salt and cook until tomatoes have rendered their juice and have begun to color, stirring or tossing occasionally, about 4 to 8 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat and sauté the mushrooms with half of the remaining garlic and a pinch of salt until they have given off most of their water and are browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside. Season to taste and keep warm.
Heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Add remaining garlic and the blanched vegetables and cook the blanched vegetables until they've taken on a little color but are still firm, about 5 minutes. Set aside. Season to taste and keep warm.
Meanwhile, reduce the cream by half in a pan large enough to hold the cooked spaghetti. Stir in the Parmesan and butter and turn the heat to low.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti. When the spaghetti is almost al dente, drain and transfer it to the pan with the reduced cream to finish cooking.
First, fold in the reserved tomato sauce into the pan containing the spaghetti and cream. Then, add the mushrooms; and, finally, the sautéed vegetables. Let set for about one minute, then plate each dish and garnish with basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toasted pine nuts could also be added as a garnish. Serves 4.