Springtime is the right time for pasta primavera, which is, after all, the Italian word for spring. There’s some controversy about who invented this wonderful dish, but everyone agrees that it was made famous in the late ’70s at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant. In any case, the recipe consists of spring vegetables, cream and cheese. How far wrong can you go?
My take on this classic swaps out the traditional Italian pasta for the fresh egg pasta called spatzle, a kind of soft noodle that’s widespread throughout southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Moselle and South Tyrol. “Wait a minute,” you say. “Homemade pasta? Sounds like too much work.” Not to worry. The spatzle will be ready to cook in the time it takes to bring a pot of water to a boil.
Spatzle dough is about the consistency of a thick pancake batter, which means it’s much more liquid than typical pasta dough. You can make it with electric beaters or by hand. The only requirement is using the right tool for the job: a spatzle maker. The device looks like a metal washboard with holes on it, topped by a small open box made of metal. You set the “washboard” over the pot of boiling water and pour the batter into the little box. The dough drips through the holes as you slowly move the metal box back and forth along the washboard to cut the strands of pasta. Some folks have suggested that you can use a colander with large holes instead of a spatzle maker, but I’ve never had success with that utensil.
“Who needs yet another kitchen gadget?” you say. I strongly believe that you do. With a spatzle maker in house — you can easily find them online for about $12 — you’ll find yourself making fresh pasta once a week, because doing so is that simple.
Here I’ve combined the pasta with typical spring ingredients — asparagus and peas — along with mushrooms, to make it more substantial. But you’re welcome to toss it instead with any of your favorite sauces.
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 active)
Servings: 4 to 6
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra for salting the water
1 pound asparagus
1 pound shelled fresh or defrosted frozen peas
8 ounces assorted whole mushrooms, halved or quartered, if large
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
240 grams (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish
Chopped fresh dill for garnish
Bring a large pot of boiling salted water to a boil. Break or cut off the bottom tough part of the asparagus and, if it is thicker than 1/3-inch, peel it from right underneath the tip all the way to the bottom of the stem. Working in a few batches, add the asparagus to the water and simmer until they are al dente but not cooked through (1 minute for thin asparagus and 2 minutes for thick), transfer them to a bowl of ice and water to chill. When they are chilled, pat them dry and slice them crosswise, at an angle, 1/2-inch thick. Set aside. If using fresh peas, add them to the water and simmer them until al dente, about 2 minutes. Use a strainer to remove them from the water and set them aside. If using defrosted frozen peas, do not cook them at this point (they were already blanched before they were frozen).
In a large skillet cook the mushrooms in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are golden, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth and cream and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
In an electric mixer stir together the flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt, add the eggs and 1 cup water and beat until the mixture is smooth. The consistency should be like that of thick pancake batter. If it is thicker, add additional water, a few tablespoons at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency. Place the spatzle maker over the pot of boiling water and slowly pour the batter into the box, letting it drip down into the water. Boil for a few minutes (taste a piece of pasta to see if it is just al dente). Strain the spatzle and add it to the skillet along with the asparagus, peas and cheese. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring, until just heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve right away topped with additional cheese, if desired, and the dill.
Editor’s Note: Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “HomeCooking 101.”