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.
The Best Pasta for Pasta Primavera
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.
Swaps and Substitutions for Pasta Primavera
Over the years, readers have shared a slew of ways that they've customized this versatile recipe based on their tastes and what they've had on hand. Here are just a few of the swaps and substitutions that have been submitted in the comments:
Pasta: Instead of angel hair or spaghetti, try other shapes such as penne, farfalle, or rotini. Also, feel free to substitute whole wheat pasta, low-carb pasta, or gluten-free pasta in place of regular white noodles.
Tomatoes: Instead of fresh Roma tomatoes, try cherry tomatoes, canned tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, or even roasted red bell peppers.
Vegetables: Instead of or in addition to the vegetables called for in this recipe, try spinach, baby carrots, fresh corn, mushrooms, yellow squash, or sugar snap peas.
Troubleshooting Tips for Primavera Sauce
Some readers have had their sauce turn a bit gloppy once they added the Parmesan. Using freshly grated Parmesan will make for easier melting versus pre-grated cheese. If your sauce turns out too thick or the cheese clumps together, try stirring in a bit more water or stock.
Store for Later
Pasta primavera should stay fresh, refrigerated in an airtight container, for several days. To reheat it, warm it in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Alternatively, you can reheat it in the microwave. Stir in a bit more water to loosen the sauce, if necessary.
More Classic Pasta Recipes to Try!
- Pasta Carbonara
- Pasta e Fagioli
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Chicken Scampi With Angel Hair Pasta
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
Classic Pasta Primavera
- 1 heaping cup broccoli florets
- 4 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
- 1/2 cup snow peas
- 1/2 pound angel hair pasta or spaghetti
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small zucchini, diced
- 3 Roma or other paste tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 12 basil leaves, chopped
Blanch the broccoli, asparagus, snow peas:
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.
Sauté the zucchini and garlic, then add the tomatoes:
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.
Add the stock, cream, blanched vegetables, and peas:
Pour in the chicken or vegetable stock 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.
Add the Parmesan:
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.
Boil the pasta:
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.
Toss the pasta and serve:
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.