Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) composed over 500 concerti. “La Primavera” ("SPRING") from “The Four Seasons” is surely his most familiar work.
Winter officially transitions into Spring on Monday, March 20 at 5:24PM EDT, and I dare say a proper celebratory feast is in order. Before we get started, here’s your accompanying soundtrack– all three movements of Maestro Vivaldi’s “La Primavera”...
...which brings us, quite naturally, to Pasta Primavera.
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There is no official or classical version of “Pasta Primavera” in the Italian culinary canon or anywhere else. Rather, this dish is an artificial construct of the pre-carbophobic late 1970’s New York restaurant scene, where simmering tensions between French and Italian chefs over pasta yielded a dish that evolved from a simple staff meal of spaghettini with fresh tomatoes into disparate versions ranging from creamy-rich to Mediterranean. Restaurant ownership soon realized that “Pasta Primavera” could be bottom-line menu gold, that such Italianesque alliteration (see what I did there?) would catch the ears and thereby open wide the purses of pathologically trendy Manhattan-ites… and all this without any actual recipe of record.
In other words, everyone in New York made up their own version… and so you can, too.
Go ahead and google “pasta primavera recipes” and behold the multitude of variations. What do they all have in common? Pasta, vegetables, and little else. And so on the morning of March 13 I went shopping, with several guiding parameters in mind. I wanted my version of Pasta Primavera to be delicious when eaten cold, since I would likely be taking leftovers out on the road. This precluded a creamy, mushroomy version, which would certainly be tasty when hot but definitely not so appealing straight from the fridge. I also wanted the dish to taste somewhat Italian, in deference to Maestro Vivaldi. I wanted a wide variety of flavors, textures, and even colors. And finally, I wanted a significant proportion of the ingredients to betoken Spring itself, either by seasonal availability, refreshing lightness, or the color green.
Here’s what I bought–
My first choice for most any pasta dish is radiatore because its surface area clings to so much sauce. But radiatore was unavailable, so I opted for Girelle, which is similarly endowed with sauce-grabbing surface area and crevices.
There seem to be multiple interpretations of “Girelle”
in cyberspace. This is what I mean.
Rather than use canned tomatoes, I bought a package of fresh and great-looking cherry tomatoes and roasted them with a toss of olive oil until their skins slipped off quite easily. This was my first addition to my bowl of veggies. (Please SAVE THE JUICE and add that to the bowl!) I then added, in order–
Sliced into bite-sized pieces and briefly sautéed in olive oil;
RED, YELLOW, & ORANGE PEPPER
Purchased in a convenient 3-pack; roasted until slightly scorched, then peeled and de-seeded. Again, save that juice. I cut them into bite-sized pieces and threw them in;
A no-brainer for a springtime dish, right? I blanched the top third of the spears and composted the rest, then briefly sautéed and added them;
Another Springtime no-brainer. I cooked them like I cook kale, only without the contempt– sautéed, steamed, then sautéed again;
PITTED KALAMATA OLIVES
Sliced lengthwise in half; the only ingredient I didn’t actually cook;
Thinly sliced and softened with a brief sauté, stopping short of scorching them and adding chopped garlic toward the end; and finally–
Cut into fleurettes, blanched and then scorched.
Note that I cooked everything rather than use any raw ingredients; this is a hot dish after all, not a pasta salad. Here’s the result, after seasoning the veggie mix with chopped fresh basil, Herbs de Provence, juice & zest of 1 lemon, and salt & pepper, and then combining the cooked pasta with the vegetable mix and topping with a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano–
While beholding such culinary splendor one might rightly wonder– what wine would properly pair with such a dish? After all, fresh vegetables– particularly asparagus and other greens– are notoriously incompatible with wine. But fear not, my fellow swirlers who insist upon celebrating Springtime in style– a white variety known as Grüner Veltliner famously bears up to the onslaught of anti-wine compounds from the plant kingdom. Grüner Veltliner is as closely identified with Austria as is Malbec with Argentina and Sauvignon Blanc with New Zealand, but increasing worldwide appreciation has recently inspired new plantings elsewhere, particularly in my local Finger Lakes region. And what does this lesser-known variety actually taste like? I think the German/Austrian wine specialist Terry Thiese put it best– “If Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling had a baby, it would be Grüner Veltliner.”
And finally, with all due respect to Maestro Vivaldi, I’ll leave you all with my all-time favorite Spring-related pop song– HERE COMES THE SUN (George Harrison/The Beatles) along with Nina Simone’s delightful COVER VERSION.
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In the final analysis, use whatever vegetables you want and find your own version of PASTA PRIMAVERA. Unlike almost all other dishes, you can’t really go wrong, so don’t overthink it.
That being said, keep in mind that the pasta is but one of several ingredients. The veggies need to be the star, with the pasta in a supporting role. (See photo above.)
Whenever purchasing fresh fruits or vegetables that are not in season locally, carefully take note of the country of origin. You’ll likely be surprised at how much is imported, and from where.
Please be mindful that one less vegetable is preferable to one too many.
I confess to taking literary liberty in this essay’s heading, juxtaposing “THE FOUR SEASONS” (English) with “LA PRIMAVERA” (Italian.) The proper Italian title of this collection of concerti is “LE QUATTRO STAGIONI.”
And finally, if you are interested in a fascinatingly detailed musicological breakdown of Vivaldi’s masterpiece and how he got instruments to sound like the weather, click HERE. (This is part one, covering “Spring” and “Summer.” Upon watching it you’ll naturally be guided by YouTube’s algorithms to part two.)