Spring Vegetable Pasta

The use of finely chopped carrots and celery in the base of the tomato sauce keep the flavor bright and refreshing while the addition of fresh tomato, green beans, potatoes and cannellini beans lend a satisfying play of textures and ample heartiness. The ingredient list is long, but this pasta is quick to make and the preparation simple.

Saute finely chopped aromatics, add tomato sauce and let it bubble away. Cook the potatoes and green beans in the same pot with the pasta. Add the fresh tomato to the sauce just before it’s done cooking, mix in the pasta with vegetables, and stir in cannellini beans at the very end. If you have vegetable-hesitant family members, leave out the green beans and lightly puree the sauce. And don’t forget to switch up the vegetables to make your own favorite combination!


THE RECIPE


Spring Vegetable Pasta

Don’t forget to check out my Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions at the bottom of the recipe.

Ingredients

Sauce

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup celery (with leaves), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cooking onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/8th pound pancetta, chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 fresh plum tomatoes, sliced into 2-inch long x 1/4-inch thick/wide pieces

Pasta

  • 8 oz trofie or gemelli pasta
  • fine sea salt
  • 1 cup russet potato, peeled and sliced into 2-inch long x 1/4-inch thick/wide pieces
  • 8 oz fresh green beans, stem end removed, cut or broken into 2 inch pieces

Topping

  • 1/2 cup pasta water, reserved just before draining pasta
  • 1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated fresh
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated fresh
  • 8-12 oz cannellini beans (drained and rinsed well, if canned)
  • 12 large basil leaves, chopped

Directions

Prep Ingredients

  1. Prep all your ingredients so the cooking process is quick and simple with minimal stress.
    • I recommend using a big cutting board and forming piles of each chopped ingredient on it. Set this next to your cooktop along with measured liquids.
    • Don’t forget to chop pancetta on a separate board, if possible. No matter what, the raw pancetta must stay separate from the toppings, which won’t be cooked and could become contaminated with raw meat bacteria.

Pasta

  1. Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat until it comes to a rolling boil.
    • While you wait for it to boil, start cooking your sauce (directions below).
  2. Salt the water and taste it; you’ve added enough salt when it just starts to taste like sea water.
  3. Add the pasta and stir often for the first two minutes, as the water comes back to a boil.
  4. Set a timer for the amount of time listed in the package directions.
  5. 8 minutes before the pasta is done cooking, add the potatoes.
  6. 3 minutes before the pasta is done cooking, add the green beans.
  7. When your timer goes off, test the pasta for doneness.
    • It’s ready when it’s al dente (tender, yet firm).
  8. When the pasta is done, measure out 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.
  9. Drain the pasta/potatoes/green beans in a colander.
    • If you’ve cooked the sauce while waiting for the water to boil, it should be finished before the pasta. If it isn’t, just leave the pasta/potatoes/green beans in the colander until the sauce is ready–as long as you stirred in the first two minutes to keep the pasta from sticking, it won’t start now.

Sauce

  1. Coat a large saute pan (about 9″) in olive oil and place over medium heat.
  2. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and pancetta, cooking until veggies start to become golden, stirring often so they don’t burn.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, water, a pinch of salt, and a grinding of black pepper, stirring to combine.
  4. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture becomes thick, almost like a thick dip or paste.
    • If the sauce spits, put a splatter guard over the top.
  5. Add the fresh tomatoes and another small pinch of salt.
  6. Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, just until tomatoes start to soften, about five minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat until ready to add the pasta.

Assembly

  1. Put the sauce over low heat.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir to combine.
  3. Add the pasta, cheeses, cannellini beans, and basil, stirring gently to combine.
  4. If the sauce needs to be thinned further, add more pasta water.
  5. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or pepper, if desired.

Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions

Carrot, Celery, Onion, and Garlic: This is what the Italians would call a soffritto and what the French would call a mirepoix. It’s the base of the sauce. These vegetables are “aromatics” which means finely chopping and sauteing them before adding the liquid will impart a depth of flavor you would otherwise miss. I highly recommend not skipping or replacing any of these ingredients, but if you don’t happen to have one on hand and really want to make the dish, don’t worry about it! Each has its own importance, but I would never skip a dish entirely just because I couldn’t make it perfectly like the recipe.

Pancetta: This is like the Italian version of bacon, the biggest difference being that it isn’t smoked, so the flavor isn’t nearly as strong. If you need to substitute with bacon, try to use a thick cut. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the slices of bacon and cook for 10 minutes. Remove and immediately immerse in ice water to stop the cooking. I know it sounds crazy, but this tones down the salty and smoky flavor, which will overpower this wonderfully refreshing dish! You could also substitute with salt pork, but only blanch in boiling water for five minutes since there isn’t any smokiness to remove.

And, of course, if you prefer, omit it completely.

Plum Tomatoes: These tomatoes have just about the least water content of any tomato you can find at the supermarket, but feel free to substitute with whatever you have or can find, including cherry tomatoes! Just make sure to cut your potatoes in a similar proportion to what’s listed in the recipe and cook them just until they begin to soften, no matter how quickly or how long it takes.

Pasta: I recommend to use trofie or gemelli because of the size and shape, which are easy to match when cutting the vegetables in this dish. Why do I want them to match? Because it’s the most appealing visually and the most appealing to eat. If you don’t have or can’t find either, try to use a similar pasta or cut your vegetables to closely match what you decide to use.

Russet Potato: Really, you can use any potato that’s appropriate to boil, russet is just what happens to be called for in pasta all Genovese, one of the inspirations behind this dish. Yukon Gold would be the most suitable replacement. Red and white would work fine, but remember that they’re much waxier.

Fresh Green Beans: If you can’t use fresh green beans, omit them. Canned will be far, far too soft. Frozen will not only be too limp, but will completely throw off the flavor, not to mention their unappetizing appearance in this beautifully bright, colorful dish.

Pasta Water: We use pasta water to thin out the sauce because it’s loaded with starch from the pasta, which helps the sauce cling. If you were to use plain tap water, the sauce wouldn’t cling to the pasta and would make it more like pasta soup.

Romano and Parmesan Cheese: If you can only find one or the other, just use that! Here’s the difference: Romano is sharper than Parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano is sharper than Romano. Ideally, you’d use a combination of Parmigiano Reggiano and Romano, but the former can be expensive, so using domestic Parmesan is fine; you’ll still have varying levels of sharpness. But if you can only find one of these or only have one on hand? Honestly, you may not even know the difference.

Just please don’t use pre-grated, canned cheese! If it’s stable at room temperature, then it’s not good enough.

Cannellini Beans: If you need to sub the beans, try anything you like, but the best will be great northern beans, white navy beans, or flageolets.

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THE STORY


I came up with this pasta thanks to a recipe for a hunter’s pasta that I thought was absolutely disgusting. Yes, a disgusting pasta gave me the idea for a delicious one. Who would’ve thought!?

The hunter’s pasta sounded wonderful and easy. Chopped onion, carrot, celery, and pancetta sauteed and then cooked for only 20 minutes with tomato sauce, water, herbs, and juniper berries. And that’s where it went wrong. I’d never tasted juniper berries before and if you think that’s something sweet, boy are you wrong. They taste a lot like rosemary and the recipe called for a whole quarter cup, which meant the sauce tasted like I’d just shoved a handful of rosemary in my mouth and started chewing. Ugh…After picking out every last juniper berry, I tried to salvage the sauce by adding more tomato sauce and water, basil, lemon juice and zest, but nothing could mask those berries, so it ended up going right down the drain. It was just inedible.

Before the juniper berries, though, the sauce smelled and looked incredible. I was so excited! So on the night that I made the spring vegetable pasta, I was thinking back, wishing I’d gotten to try it before adding those horrid berries. My first thought was that I’d make it again, omitting them. But then I thought about pasta alla Genovese, a dish in which fresh green beans and potatoes are cut to match the size/shape of the pasta, cooked in the water along with it, and then tossed with pesto and cheese after draining. The green beans and pesto are bright and refreshing while the potato adds this wonderful contrasting texture, soft yet hearty. When I first made it, though, I felt like something was missing and that something was tomato. The next day, when I reheated leftovers, I added chopped fresh cherry tomatoes and it was perfect.

So when I thought about the hunter’s pasta again, I decided green beans, potato, and fresh basil might be just the right addition, not to mention that much more nutritious. The only thing left would be to add fresh tomato at the last minute, which, paired with a rich, cooked tomato sauce, is like the perfect marriage. I set about making my newly devised dish, cooking the sauce while I waited for the pasta to boil. Then, just as with the Genovese, I cooked my potato and beans in the water with the pasta. When all was said and done, I mixed it together, took a taste, and was blown away by how good it was. On my first try, one of the most delicious pastas I’d ever eaten! That’s truly good luck. But something was still missing. The potatoes did add a certain creaminess, but weren’t quite enough. Cannellini beans were the answer and once I mixed them in, it was perfect.

I served my husband and daughter and, to my absolute delight, G was eating it up, raving about how she loves vegetables. She was excited to eat it! Of course, I did call it “veggie spaghetti” and remind her that Daniel Tiger loves his veggie spaghetti, but G is a vegetable lover all on her own; that was just maybe the extra push she needed 😉 And she ate leftovers for the next two days, actually requesting it, herself!

I think this is a wonderfully nutritious dish. A great way to make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients is to eat by color, which is affected by the vitamin and mineral content of a vegetable, and this pasta has plenty! Green beans, red tomatoes, and orange carrots…starchy potatoes…and most importantly, the combination of pasta and beans, which together form a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids! Something that you won’t find in a single vegetable protein or carb.

I hope you’ll give this dish a try, first exactly as it’s written, and second experimenting with your own favorite combination of vegetables. After all, the best way to learn to cook is to just do it!

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