Even as spring approaches, 16 percent of all dinners made in America tonight will be from the frozen-food aisle of the supermarket. It’s not completely surprising considering the convenience factor, but why not spring for something with fresh seasonal ingredients instead? (Pun — and deliciousness — intended).
Peas are in their absolute prime this time of year. The snow pea is a legume that’s grown in open fields during cool seasons and cultivated in the spring. Unlike garden and field peas, the snow pea is notable for its entirely edible pods that lack the disagreeable fiber found in the pod walls of other peas. For this reason, the green shoots are often cut and served as a vegetable in many cultures. In China, you will snow peas stir-fried with shellfish and fragrant spices. In Italy, we saute them in garlic, then chill them and dress with lemon juice and zest. This is the way snow peas are prepared in my Chilled Penne Pasta With Asparagus and Peas.
To perfectly complement the freshness of the peas, I’ve added other seasonal vegetables: asparagus and ramps. Asparagus, a vegetable prized by many chefs, arrives with the first few days of spring. Since ancient times, asparagus has been one of the best health helpers around. With its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, it’s a truly special vegetable when in season. Ramps, on the other hand, arrive a little later. These wild spring onions have a short season, from April to early June. If they’re not available, a mix of garlic, leeks and scallions makes a nice substitute.
The best time to make this dish is during spring when these vegetables thrive; but the pasta dish can also be frozen to serve at a later date. Either way, Chilled Penne Pasta With Asparagus and Peas is probably much tastier than that other frozen selection you had in mind!
Chilled Penne Pasta With Asparagus and Peas
Makes 8 servings
1 1/2 pounds penne pasta
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 cup snow peas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups shelled peas
1 bunch ramps, cleaned and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup mint, leaves chopped
Salt and pepper
Place a large pot of water on high heat, and bring to a boil. Season water generously with salt so it tastes like the ocean. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook 1 minute short of the package instructions. Drain the pasta, and shock it in the ice bath. Reserve some pasta water for the sauce.
Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil; then add the garlic, crushed pepper flakes and snow peas. Cook for a few seconds before adding the asparagus, shelled peas and ramps.
Season with salt and pepper, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until the asparagus is just barely cooked. Add some pasta water to create a sauce. Remove from heat, and stir in the cheese to emulsify. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a bowl, and allow the mixture to cool.
Add the cooled pasta to the vegetable mixture. Add the fresh mint leaves, and toss to combine all the ingredients well. Top with freshly grated lemon zest and juice, more cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Store in the fridge until ready to transport or eat.
Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants, including Eataly, DelPosto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!