My pasta primavera recipe uses one of the most emblematic Italian ingredients of spring: dandelion greens. Italians are famous foragers. Remember the scene in Under the Tuscan Sun (a great foodie book, by the way) where the author discovers a bent-over nonna picking weeds on her property, just as she'd done every spring for decades? You can do this, too. Just let your lawn alone for a while and you'll likely find some of these:
Resist the urge to pull them out. Do not pour chemicals on them. Let them grow and prosper. And then pick the leaves and put them in pasta.
My pasta primavera recipe also includes green garlic, an ingredient whose appearance elicits cheers and actual jumping up and down. You'll find it at farmers' markets, gourmet grocery stores, and possibly Asian markets in the early spring. Green garlic looks like a very large green onion - in fact, it's the young version of the garlic plant, before the bulb matures and swells. Its flavor is milder than bulb garlic, and you use the whole thing, including the greens. If you can't find green garlic, use regular garlic, but do look for the young green garlic at this time of year. Many people use it in soup, but we prefer green garlic pizza.
Pasta with weeds and sprouts - my husband was quite skeptical. But chopped and sauteed with pancetta, tossed with steaming spaghetti, and topped with freshly grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, my pasta primavera won him over.
P.S. I think I'm in trouble. Emery, my 12-year-old son, just looked over my shoulder and said "Hey, when did you make that?" Um...on Sunday morning, when you were visiting your grandparents, darling. Note to self: Buy more dandelion greens.
Pasta primavera with green garlic and dandelion greens
- 1/2 pound spaghetti
- 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 large bunch dandelion greens, washed and chopped
- 2 stalks green garlic, washed carefully (it can be gritty) and chopped
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tsp olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon and cook 2-3 minutes, until the fat starts to render and the edges of the bits of meat start to brown. Add the onion and saute another 1 minutes, just until the onion starts to soften.
Now add the dandelion greens and the green garlic, stir, and cover the skillet briefly to let the greens wilt. Dandelion greens are hardier than spinach but more delicate than kale; you won't need to cook them too long. By the time you've drained the pasta, the greens should be ready.
In a large bowl, combine the pasta and the dandelion mixture. Add the grated cheese and olive oil and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.