Pasta Primavera – asparagus, broadbeans and petit pois

…or how to make my favourite expensive vegetable go further.

This recipe uses a ‘pasta bianca’ sauce, but the way it is made in restaurants. I learnt the method from my friend Claudio, who is an amazing cook. It means you can make it vegan, or optionally vegan, adding parmesan to each plate separately if desired. I think this recipe, with asparagus, doesn’t need cheese – in fact, is better without it – but do as you will, dear reader 😉

Ingredients – serves 2 people, but it is easy to double it up

250g dry weight of ‘smooth’ as opposed to ribbed pasta (pasta liscia)
I used linguine, but I would have used penne lisce, if I’d had some – the important thing is that it is smooth to go with the silky texture of the vegetables.
125g (about half a bunch) asparagus – choose a bunch with thinner rather than thicker spears, as it gives the illusion of being more when they’re cut up
100g fresh or frozen broad beans, their inner skins removed – if you can’t get them, substitute frozen edamame/green soya beans
100g frozen petit pois
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste.

Skin your broadbeans.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, trim woody ends from the asparagus, and cut spears into 2-3 cm lengths. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add asparagus and cook for a couple of minutes until done but al dente. Strain over a jug (the water is very good for you!) and refresh asparagus under cold water.
Add pasta to the big pan, and cook as per instructions on the packet until also al dente. While the pasta is cooking, make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. In a small pan over a medium flame, heat oil (or melt butter and when gently foaming), add garlic. When fragrant, about 30 secs, add flour and water mixture and stir continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan,) check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared and season – you might not need salt if you’ve used butter, but don’t forget it if you’ve used oil.
Two minutes before the pasta is ready, add the peas and beans to the water. Strain all in a colander, and return to pan, add asparagus and the sauce and mix through. Black pepper and/or parmesan are optional, but there should be enough vegetables in this to be brimming with taste as it is. The fresh garlic gives the sauce plenty of flavour.


Linguine with sage and oyster mushrooms

…last thursday week’s lunch

I got really excited because Lidl said they were doing a special offer on asparagus for £1 a bunch, but when I got there with my tongue hanging out, the bunches were only 125g….whereas the veg stall on Bethnal Green Rd has 250g for £1.50, which is unfortunately in completely the opposite direction to Lidls…walked out without spending anything.
The following recipe probably didn’t even need the oyster mushrooms (I don’t normally think of buying them because they’re free in the woods all summer/autumn long) but sage loves mushrooms and mushrooms love sage and my sage bush has gone mental with the advent of some warm weather and I had been looking forward to a small treat and,and
…any excuse 🙂
There is a really good Turkish shop – the only one in the area – close to my house, which is also practically the only shop that sells some West Indian/African veg near here – the East End Food Centre on Commercial Rd – and I went to buy veg for the Jamaican Pepperpot…they happened to have some really fresh looking oyster mushrooms loose for £4.99 a kilo (Sainsbury’s charge £10 odd a kilo, prepackaged and often past their best), so I bought 50g, enough for one generous portion, for 25p.
This recipe evolved from the classic Italian ‘Ravioli/Gnocchi al burro e salvea’ – the addition of salt and garlic is to replace the butter and copious Parmesan traditionally used, but the method is pretty much the same.

Ingredients 10-15mins
per person
100-125 g linguine or pasta of choice, dry weight
approx 50g oyster mushroom/mushroom of choice (optional)
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
Fresh sage – 4 or so leaves

In a large/big enough pan, bring copious water to the boil with a good amount of salt. Cover with a lid until it’s boiling, it saves energy. Add pasta, cover again until it returns to the boil, stir in case the pasta has stuck together or to the bottom of the pan. Put the lid on a slant, because otherwise it will boil over, but keep on a hard rolling boil until cooked al dente – follow guidelines on the packet more or less, but sample until it’s done to your liking. Drain, and if you’ve only got one burner like me at the moment, sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of oil and fork through.
Meanwhile/in stesso tempo, in a different pan, heat oil, and gently fry the smallest of your fresh sage leaves until still green but crispy. Remove with slotted spoon and reserve. Tear mushrooms by hand down the length of their gills, add garlic to oil, then larger sage leaves finely snipped with scissors/shredded with a knife, then mushrooms and (a two fingers and one thumb if you’re cooking for more than one, but don’t overdo it) pinch of salt, Saute for 2-3-4 minutes. In the original pasta pan, combine pasta ‘et al’, plate up, and add small crispy sage leaves as garnish.
Oyster mushrooms are quite peppery, but if you used any other kind of mushroom, or no mushrooms at all, you might want to add a twist of black pepper, but add it incrementally, as it can overpower/ overtake the sage – less is so often more 🙂

If you decided to be more traditional or you just can’t imagine pasta without Parmesan – then the garlic and the salt are optional – I really hope you know that the so called grated parmesan in a tub tastes like baby vomit, and that ‘fresh’ pre-grated/pre-shaved from the supermarket is a rip off…but likewise posh ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ in a vacuum packed wedge is defeating the point ‘cos it’s all sweaty. The best deal in the UK is Sainsbury’s basic range ‘Italian Hard Cheese’, £2.89 for 200g – fine for cooking, grating and even shaving over salads. Also freezes fine. I use it sometimes, but I didn’t have any last thursday, and I’m a great believer in the principle of ‘if you can do without, without noticing the difference, then do without!’

I was a very happy kitten after eating this, which was just as well, considering the evening that awaited me….