Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Thank You and Pasta Primavera


My last post was about my "experiment" in making bigne or cream puffs which turned out ok in taste, but rather disappointing in terms of execution. Since I went to the trouble of making  the dough and taking the pictures, I published the post with a lot of questions on what I may have done wrong. I was very happily surprised by the comments I received from readers giving me good advice and encouraging me to try again. This time, I used the same recipe but went through the process armed with much more confidence. The results are pictured above. To the left is my first attempt which resulted in a flat, somewhat overcooked bigne that was difficult to cut and looked like a cream sandwich after being filled. The bigne pictured on the right is my second attempt. This time, I handled the dough much more confidently with a particular outcome in mind. I also let the dough rest longer than the directions in the recipe which made it less runny. Then, I cooked them till they looked done. They were much easier to slice into, and after I piped in the filling set up beautifully. So thank you , thank you, thank you for the great advice and encouragement.

Primavera means spring in Italian. Inspired by the warm weather we were teased with in New York, I decided to make Pasta Primavera using asparagus and peas as my "spring vegetables", mushrooms which were left overs from something else I made and light cream.The pasta was a spinach and chive linguine I found in Trader Joe's. The process is the same as many other pasta dishes I've done cooking the sauce or "condimento" as the Italians call it simultaneously with the pasta and timing the dish so that the sauce finishes either at the same time or before the pasta (never AFTER THE PASTA as you see on too many cooking shows).

 Here are my ingredients which I have prepped prior to starting to cook. A small shallot diced, asparagus with the woody bottoms discarded sliced, frozen peas (better with fresh), sliced mushrooms, chopped parsley, light cream and butter. I have also grated about 1/4 cup of parmigiana reggiano Notice, I am not trying to overwhelm the dish with too many ingredients. Balance.

The mushrooms get cooked first in a little olive oil and butter.After they start to release their liquid, add the shallots and cook them till they are translucent. Meanwhile, bring the pasta water to the boil.

The pasta and asparagus both needed about 8 minutes, so I started them together. (Actually, the pasta needs 9 minutes to be perfect, but it will cook the final minute in the pan). The object is to have the greens and pasta finish at the same time. You learn these things by practice. In the picture I have just dumped them in the water which hasn't come back up to the boil yet. As soon as it does, start your timer.

In the picture at left, I have added the peas to the mushrooms and shallots along with enough of the boiling pasta water to steam the peas.

A minute or so later, I have added about 4 ounces of the light cream to the skillet. It is beginning to boil and thicken. My pasta and asparagus are almost done. The Magic Moment is approaching.

The pasta and asparagus have been drained and quickly added to the sauce. Now is the time when the sauce, vegetables and pasta cease to exist separately, but become one due to the alchemy of cooking! Have a pat of butter and the grated cheese ready.

The sauce has thickened. The pasta has absorbed some of the liquid and is now perfectly andante. Off the heat, stir in half the grated cheese and the butter. Then plate the pasta and sprinkle it with the remaining cheese.


  1. I'm curious, why did you choose to boil the asparagus rather than sauté them in the pan with the other vegetables? Was it because of how much thicker they were than the other veg?

    I like to still have some crunch to my asparagus, but when I use it in a pasta dish, I slice it on a diagonal so it's closer to 1/8 inch so I can sauté it quickly.

  2. Yeah, because of what I chose to cook with the asparagus,I wanted them to be on the soft side. I find with asparagus, if you want them "crunchy", you have to guard against them being stringy. Boiling them for 8 minutes got them just right for me. Italians don't generally like crunchy vegetables anyway.

  3. Joe, this recipe is a delight. You asked elsewhere about jam and dried apricots - fresh apricots can be used as well but would require different handling. Also, Cornell has an extension service with lots of good information posted on-line. For that matter you could do a google search and get any information that you need.

  4. Joe, you are really a good cuoco!
    It's a great idea to add the mushrooms..I will try it. Regarding the light cream, what kind of cream is it exactly? Is it panna? thanks for the info.

  5. I think this is an American invention, Anna. You certainly could use panna. We have heavy or whipping cream (30% fat), half and half which is cream and milk (12% fat) and "light cream' which has more fat than half and half but is lighter than heavy cream (20% fat).

  6. Perfecto is right. Beautiful job on your puff pastries! And what a lovely Pasta Primavera. I have to say my favorite "authentic" Italian TV chef is Lidia Bastianich of Lidia's Italy. You are right on with the prep for this, as this is how she finishes 99.9% of her dishes. Bravo!

  7. Thanks guys! Your encouragement definitely helped with the pastry. Lidia and Mario Batali are two of my gurus and both talk about the importance of adding the almost finished pasta to the sauce for that final "magic moment".