Classic Pasta Primavera

Remember the 70s? Please welcome Hank Shaw as he shares one of his favorite restaurant pasta dishes from that era, pasta primavera. ~Elise

Pasta primavera. It’s very name evokes the 1980s, nouveau cuisine, and bad food clichés. Done in its classic form, which is believed to be invented by the chefs at Le Cirque restaurant in New York City in the late 1970s, primavera is a riot of vegetation doused in butter, cream and lots of parmesan cheese. Our version is a pared down rendition of this classic, simplified and lightened up for more modern tastes.

Why resurrect pasta primavera at all?

Because despite all the jokes, it was – and is – a good dish. Any of us who ate in high style in the late 1970s, or really anywhere in the 1980s, has eaten it at some point in our lives. I ate it a lot. My mother first had it at Le Cirque sometime around 1979, and loved it so much she learned how to make it.

For whatever reason, my mother made her primavera with angel hair pasta, which is a gossamer version of spaghetti that cooks in seconds. It has a lovely mouthfeel and really does make the cream and cheese feel lighter when you eat it.

But, angel hair congeals into a gob in minutes, so don’t make the pasta until the sauce is done, and don’t wait to serve it – the angel hair must go from pot to plate at once.

Angel hair, also called capellini, is readily available in most supermarkets. Can you use regular old spaghetti? You bet. That’s what they used at Le Cirque, after all.

Classic Pasta Primavera Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4


  • 1/2 pound angel hair pasta or spaghetti
  • 1 small bunch broccoli, about 1 heaping cup of florets
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 4 asparagus spears
  • 1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup snow peas
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 3 Roma or other paste tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 12 basil leaves, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegetarian option)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt


1 Get a large pot of water boiling. Salt it well. It should taste like the sea. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Boil the broccoli for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and boil another minute. Add the snow peas and boil for 30 more seconds. Remove all the vegetables and plunge them into the ice water. Once they’re cool, drain in a colander.

If you want, you can boil your pasta in the same pot you boiled the vegetables in, or you can start over and boil new water; I use the same water.

2 In a large sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, add the garlic and zucchini and sauté 1 minute. Add the diced tomatoes and sauté another 2 minutes, stirring often.

3 Pour in the chicken or vegetable broth and turn the heat to high to bring it to a boil. Add the cream and toss in all the vegetables you boiled, plus the peas. Stir to combine. Turn the heat down until the cream-chicken broth mixture is just simmering, not boiling.

4 Add the parmesan cheese and stir to combine. If the sauce seems too thick – it should be pretty thick, but not gloppy – add some more chicken broth, cream or water.

5 Boil the angel hair pasta. Note: If you are using spaghetti, you will want to start cooking it before you begin sautéing the garlic and zucchini. Angel hair will only need 1-2 minutes to cook, vermicelli or spaghetti can take 8-12 minutes.

As soon as the pasta is done, transfer it with tongs into the sauce and stir to combine. Add the basil now, and taste for salt. Add salt if needed. Grind some black pepper over everything and serve immediately.

You will want a dry white wine with this, ideally a dry French white.

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Classic Pasta Primavera

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Showing 4 of 23 Comments

  • Toni

    I make a much different version of this, which I always assumed was the “Classic Italian Way.” And little did I know this only came about in the 70s?? I normally use:

    Peppers (green, red, orange and yellow!)

    I saute the veggies (in olive oil, salt & pepper) that need the most time to cook up first – such as the mushrooms, onions and broccoli – until tender. Then throw in the rest, let them soften a little (I HATE overcooked peppers when they’re to the point of the skin bubbling off – I can’t seem to digest the skin if it’s coming off the pepper. Yuck.), add chicken stock and some white wine, and let that cook for a bit while the pasta is cooking. And I’m not the biggest spaghetti fan (although I’m all Italian), so I use rigatoni instead. When the pasta is cooked and drained, I add the veggies to it, add some fresh basil and parmesan cheese and serve! It’s delicious. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll add some toasted pine nuts, too :)

    Actually, pine nuts and mushrooms ARE in the original version! I left them out because the dish was getting chaotic. ~Hank

  • Nick

    Great recipe Hank! I’m not sure that I’ve ever had primavera made with Angel Hair pasta. Sounds really interesting though.

    I’d say the most important thing about a pasta primavera is just making sure you don’t overcook the veggies. A tiny crunch to them is perfect.

  • Susan

    I love this dish, I don’t care if it is or was the butt of old jokes. Every dish that’s ever “caught on” and became a feature at every restaurant you stepped in, has done so because it really is good and meets most of the criteria to be profitable for a restaurant. This one is popular, inexpensive to make, easy to prepare and adapt, is fairly healthy and can feed a lot of people. What’s not to like?

  • Anna

    It’s been years since I had pasta primavera. I used to make it myself, but rarely ordered it in restaurants because invariably it arrived loaded with my least favorite veggies (or worse, mushrooms!) and skimpy on my favorites.

    I stopped eating pasta in 2004 (between the gluten thing and the blood sugar thing, pasta just isn’t my friend anymore), but the veggies, cream, and parmigiano are right up my alley. This weekend I’ll serve this w/o pasta for my husband and I, and with rice pasta for our son. It’ll be a great way to use up some of our CSA veggies to make room for the new box that arrives on Tuesday.

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