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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.

Links:

Mom's Pasta Primavera here on Simply Recipes
Pioneer Woman's Pasta Primavera with penne pasta
Chicken pasta primavera from $5 Dinners
Spring vegetable pasta primavera, with video from Food Wishes

18 Comments

  1. 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:

    Mushrooms
    Peppers (green, red, orange and yellow!)
    Zucchini
    Onions
    Broccoli
    Asparagus

    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

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. carrie

    I used to love eating the pasta primavera from California Pizza Kitchen. This was the late 80′s/early 90′s. They don’t have it any more, but I loved ordering it with angel hair. So good. Thanks for the recipe. I’ll have to try it along with all the other variations people commented on.

  6. Anna

    I’ve been a vegetarian for about sixteen years, so I’ve eaten my share of pasta primavera. The BEST ever is at a little Italian restaurant in OK City called Sopha Bella’s. Since my military brother moved to the other side of the world I’ve no reason to go back to OK City – except for that pasta! I dreamed about it, once. Sigh. Look forward to trying this. Thanks, Hank!

  7. David Sandford

    I’ve used many combinations of vegetables when making this dish, but I do it with a few differences.

    The first and probably major difference is that except for the pasta I cook the entire meal in a single large frying pan.

    Another big difference is that I use Fettuccine as my pasta of choice. It is usually homemade and precooked – I keep it in fresh water in the refrigerator (change water daily).

    My other differences is that I use butter and 1/2 & 1/2 instead of heavy cream.
    (occasionally I’ve even used 2% milk – this requires more Parmesan to thicken the sauce – usually when I do this I skip the stock and add a splash of white wine instead).

    I always start by cutting all the vegetables into small pieces.

    Saute’ minced garlic in butter for a few seconds, on med high heat.

    Next add the vegetables, stirring constantly to keep them from burning (I add the vegetables separated and at different times depending on how done I want them to be, so they’ll all be done at the same time).

    Then I dump the vegetables out of the pan onto a plate or bowl.

    Add the drained Fettuccine and warm it a bit.

    Add the 1/2 & 1/2 and Parmesan. Stir till thickened.

    Add stock. Continue to stir until thickened

    Add the vegetables, season, and serve.

    –Sorry I didn’t add amounts, but normally I don’t physically measure anything when cooking, and for some reason I just didn’t feel like using my head today in figuring out the amounts.

  8. Evan Warner

    my daughter doesn’t like pasta at all but when I made this recipe at home she really enjoyed it. This recipe is delicious and takes less effort to cook so you can enjoy the rest of the time with your family or watching fav soaps in TV. Thanks for sharing such a good recipe.

  9. Nina

    I literally just finished this dish right now, and wow so good! This one’s a keeper; good job Hank Shaw!

  10. Sarah

    This sounds awesome. I’m definitely going to make it this week, but I think I will ditch the broccoli and snow peas and go for some julienned carrots and red bell pepper instead, the way I had it at my favorite restaurant growing up – also because the colors are lovely!

  11. Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle

    I have a cookbook that was my mothers that is one of those compilation of dishes from a woman’s group at church. In it is a dish called Pasta con Broccoli that I have been making for…drum roll please – 30 years! It’s very similar to a pasta primavera but only with broccoli, mushrooms and tomatoes…and a lot of butter and parmesan.

    I think that is what started my family on the road to loving pasta with a lot of vegetables and simple sauces…all meatless and all depending on what is fresh and available!

  12. Janine

    Made this last night. Store was out of snow peas and I forgot the peas in the freezer. I bought some sweet peppers instead and also cut some green beans. Turned out great. Also used more broth and cream. I like my pasta creamy. Had not eaten this before, but the preparation reminded me of Espageti verde (green pasta), a mexican dish where poblano peppers are blended with cream and added to spaghetti. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Rachel Smith

    Fabulous! We used yellow squash instead of zucchini, fresh sugar snap peas instead of the snow peas and peas, and just sprinkled each serving with fresh torn basil leaves. A definate do over.

  14. Anne Murphy

    This was delicious. I threw in some shrimp and mushrooms as well, and used white wine instead of chicken broth. YUMMY!!! Will definitely make it again.

  15. Jodi

    Mmmmm. I need to make this soon. May I also suggest Spaghetti Squash instead of pasta? Since we have tomato allergy in our family I’ll also be using roasted red peppers instead.

  16. Jordan

    How can this be filed under ‘vegetarian’ if in step 3, you are pouring in chicken broth? How is it with using veggie broth instead? Anyone?

    It’s filed under ‘Vegetarian’ because this recipe is wonderful done with vegetable stock. ~Hank

  17. Stacy

    Made this tonight. It was fantastic! A perfect summer dish for dinners out on the deck!

  18. Emily

    I made this recipe (using vegetable broth) for a dinner party and it was an enormous success! My guests ate every last bite, with a couple even asking for seconds. Substituting angel hair pasta for heavier spaghetti was the perfect way to modernize this classic meal.

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