One can only imagine with what a hurrah! welcome! the arrival of Spring would have been greeted generations ago – not only because it heralded warmer temperatures but also because there would be an increase in the variety of food one could eat. A bit of novelty for the poor ol’ palate.
We all take fridges and freezers for granted, don’t we, as well as the transportation of food across countries and continents. Can you imagine having to do with just salted or brined fare for months on end? Doesn’t bear thinking about. So I expect that the sense of gastronomic expectation previous generations had with the break of Winter lingers on still, even though we live in an age where formerly summer-only crops are available all year round now (think tomatoes, salads, aubergines, courgettes etc).
Where I live in Italy, within spitting distance of Rome, it is only artichokes, peas and broad beans (fava beans in American English) that are not available all year round, properly ‘seasonal’ I mean. They are ingredients that are all about Spring, and rebirth and regeneration. For the rest, one can find nearly all the other vegetables in stalls and supermarkets, and these veggies are either grown in greenhouses or imported (green beans from Morocco for instance). One of the reasons I began boycotting supermarkets was when I read the label on the provenance of lemons one day. Italy is bursting with lemons and yet these were imported from Argentina! Nearly all the garlic to be found in Italy hails from Spain, again a conundrum for me since I am sure that garlic can grow extremely well on this peninsula. And one final moan: tomatoes (tasteless ones at that) from Holland. Seriously … I am not against the export/import of foods as such, so that’s not it. But surely it doesn’t make sense to import food(s) that one can grow perfectly well in one’s own country?
Enough of this rambling, and on with the recipe. The point I wish to underscore is that fresh, seasonal vegetables are an absolute delight and inspire one to treasure their transient presence at our table. They are there to remind us to be grateful for variety.
I was also inspired by having favourite son visiting us for the weekend. As it happened, my husband could not join us for the Sunday lunch but I thought I would make a ‘special’ pasta anyway for our two kids (we also have a favourite daughter). I decided that ‘fresh’ had to be the theme, and that included my making my own fettuccine. Home-made pasta is a treat and not difficult to make (basically 100g of flour per egg per person).
INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA SAUCE
Courgettes, asparagus, broad beans, tomatoes, guanciale/pork jowl (pancetta or Italian sausage or even a little bit of bacon will do if you can’t get the pork jowl), peas (I used frozen because that’s all I had) fresh rosemary, basil, marjoram and mint, lemon zest, parmigiano (parmesan cheese) and pecorino cheese.
The tip I would like to point out today is to create a sort of ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta. If you season the cooking water this way, the final pasta will take on an especially tasty flavour.
I did not, as is my wont, take a photo of every single step as I cooked but I am sure it won’t be a problem for you. The procedure for this pasta sauce is far from problematic. True, there are a number of steps and ingredients involved, yes there are, but any care or difficulty is to be gleefully thrown to the wind! Winter is over, let’s hear it for Spring!
Cut the asparagus about an inch or slightly more below the tip. Then slice the tips into two or three or even four parts and set aside. Use what is left of the usable asparagus to make up the broth. I cut up these stems into smaller pieces because that will make it easier to process the broth at a later stage.
Place the asparagus inside the pasta pan. Cover with water but don’t put the whole amount of water you would normally use to cook the pasta – only about half the amount. This will make it easier for you to process the asparagus once they are cooked. And do add a little salt too.
When the asparagus are cooked, use a hand held immersion blender and process them into a broth. Now add extra water.
Also add a sprig of rosemary – this will also impart a nice flavour to the asparagus ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.I got favourite son to shell the broad beans for me. I had simmered them for less than 10 minutes.
And here they are stripped of their outer skin. Set aside.
Do you know what this is? I hadn’t known. It’s fresh garlic. My first time. If you can’t find fresh garlic I expect that an onion would be a good substitute for this recipe (rather than ordinary garlic).
Chop up the fresh garlic – not all of it mayble, just enough to smarten the dish up with.
And now it’s time to get serious. Put the pasta broth on the boil and add extra salt when it starts simmering. Also, pour some olive oil into a large saucepan and add some thinly sliced guanciale (again – pancetta or bacon or Italian sausage will do if you can’t find guanciale/pork jowl). Gently cook the guanciale.
Start by adding the garlic and cook for about two minutes …
Now courgettes sliced into happy discs …
Next come the slices of asparagus tips.
And now a smattering of peas (frozen is all I had), two small quartered tomatoes and the broad beans. Time to sprinkle some salt.
Marjoram and basil go into the pan too.
Toss the vegetables about gently as they cook and become acquainted with one another. At this point add a ladleful of the asparagus broth.
Also add a teaspoon or a wee bit more of butter.
Add the smallest amount of lemon zest (put more in if you like – I don’t like too much of the stuff in my cooking, just enough to give the dish a little lift without overwhelming with its citrusy clout).
When you think the veggies are nicely cooked and ready to receive their royal highnesses the fettuccine … lower the latter into the simmering and salted asparagus broth. It won’t take long for fresh pasta to cook.
Drain the pasta directly into the saucepan with the veggies. Add a bit more asparagus broth.
Now is the time to sprinkle a little grated parmigiano (parmesan cheese) into the mix and combine till the cheese is totally blended with the sauce.
When plating up, add a few mint leaves on top of the pasta.
Final touch: sprinkle grated pecorino cheese and serve.
And, naturally, enjoy!!!
P.S. Frank Fariello has recently written a post on a very similar dish. Great minds think alike ! http://memoriediangelina.com/2018/05/11/fusilli-primavera/