Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pasta Primavera

Back in the '80s, when carbohydrates were virtuous and fat was evil (or something) pasta was all the rage. Even the Smurfs were in on the craze, although I'll admit that "Papa Smurf's Special Sauce" sounds less than appetizing. This carb-curious atmosphere was great for vegetarians, since pretty much any restaurant menu would offer several options, especially for those not opposed to eggs and/or dairy. High on this list was the ubiquitous pasta primavera, which was apparently the brainchild of some wankster foodie back in 1975, who felt jaded from a week of eating "lobster and boar" and decided to blow everyone's minds by cooking spaghetti. (Seriously, you think I can make this stuff up?)

And lucky for me and my kind that he did, because pasta primavera - drenched in a creamy sauce and topped with a blizzard of Parmesan; so much for that whole "low fat" thing - was among my go-to eating out dishes for several years. Time went by, Cyndi Lauper faded from our collective consciousness, men stopped wearing pastel sportcoats, shoulderpads dwindled in size and (like Princess Di herself) eventually disappeared, and it had been ages since I'd even thought about this old favorite until it occurred to me that pasta might be a good use for the fresh English peas that hadn't wound up in this soup.

And so it proved! In fact, this dish turned out so well that it's going on my "dinner party menu list"; if you really want to go for that Reagan-era gusto, you could serve it with white zinfandel (do you remember that stuff? It was like mildly boozy Juicy Juice), but personally I'd opt for a nice, dry sauvignon blanc.

Pasta Primavera
~ 1 tbsp. each: olive oil, Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1.5 cups halved grape tomatoes
~ 1 generous tsp. each: salt, basil
~ ½ tsp. oregano
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric (for color)
~ A few healthy grinds black pepper
~ ½ cup vegan Parmesan (homemade or store-bought)
~ ¼ cup nutritional yeast
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soymilk
~ 1 container vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti)
~ 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 2 cups broccoli florets
~ 2 cups asparagus spears, cut into 1” pieces
~ 1.5 cups fresh green peas
~ 1 lb. radiatorifusilli, or other bite-size pasta
~ Chopped, fresh basil and/or parsley

~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the olive oil and margarine together and sauté the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, tomatoes, salt, basil, oregano, turmeric, and pepper; cook about 2 minutes more.
~ Turn the heat to medium-low, add the Parmesan and nutritional yeast, and stir to combine. Gradually add the soymilk, stirring constantly.
~ Add the sour cream and mix well; continue cooking about 5 minutes more, until the sauce is smooth and thick. Stir in the fresh lemon juice, remove from heat, and set aside.
~ Bring a large, deep pot of water to a rolling boil and add the pasta, stirring once. When the pasta has about 4 minutes left to cook, add the broccoli, asparagus, and peas to the pot.
~ Drain the pasta and vegetables into a large container, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
~ Return the drained pasta and vegetables to the pot and add the sauce, stirring well to make sure everything is coated. If necessary, add a bit of your reserved pasta water to get the consistency you want.
~ Reheat gently just until hot, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and additional Parmesan and/or nooch as desired.

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