Pasta Primavera Or Penne With Morels

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On a chilly Saturday evening in June in the Hamptons, about 45 years ago, I went to a small dinner party arranged by the husband of a nervous hostess. To my absolute delight, she emerged from the kitchen with a huge bowl of scrumptious pasta primavera. It was beautiful and one of the most memorable dinner parties I’ve attended. Everyone including the hostess relaxed as we ate delicious pasta with hot crusty garlic bread with a glass of Pinot Noir. For this primavera recipe, add or substitute any vegetable that is the freshest and best in the market.

The next time you find morels in the market, make penne with morels. I serve it as a side dish with grilled fish. Morels belong to the same fungus species as the truffle; it’s an edible wild mushroom. Their cone-shaped caps are normally about 2 inches high, with a rich tan to dark brown color. Morels have a smoky, earthy, nutty flavor and their honeycomb crevices and hollows have a great affinity for cream sauces.

Bon appétit!

Pasta Primavera(Serves 6)Vegetables:3 carrots peeled, cut into small ovals and blanched

2 cups extra fancy petit pois or shucked fresh English peas, blanched

1 cup shelled edamame, blanched

3 to 4 ounces sugar snap peas, strung and blanched

About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bunches spring onions (or scallions), trimmed and cut into 1-and-1/2-inch lengths

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, washed, drained, and slicedFor the sauce:2 tablespoons olive oil

2 stalks celery, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch wild ramps, if available, or 1 shallot, minced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

About 1 cup chopped fresh herb leaves (basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, and/or parsley)

1 pound imported angel hair or thin spaghetti

Large pot of boiling salted water

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Optional: red pepper flakes to taste

About 4 to 5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese

6 Campari tomatoes, quartered or 1 box of grape tomatoes

Fresh basil leaves for garnishTo prepare:In a large pot of boiling water over high heat, blanch the carrots until crunch tender, remove with a slotted spoon or strainer, drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process, transfer to a colander and set aside.

Blanch peas, remove, and drain; blanch edamame, and finally sugar snap peas, using the same technique as the carrots. Do not overcook the vegetables.

Toss the vegetables together and set aside. Reserve the vegetable blanching water to cook the pasta.

In a skillet over moderate-high heat, coat the bottom with oil and sauté onions briefly until aromatic, add mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until mushrooms are browned, stirring constantly. Add mushroom/onions to the blanched vegetables, toss, and set aside.For the sauce: In a large skillet over moderate heat, add olive oil and when it shimmers add celery and ramps and sauté briefly, add garlic, salt, pepper, and sauté until tender and aromatic, about 2 or 3 minutes.

Add herbs and mix well.

Taste and adjust the seasonings and set pan off the heat.To cook the pasta and final assembly: Bring the blanching water back to a boil, add salt, stir in pasta, and cook until al dente or according to the directions on the side of the package.

Scoop out about 1 to 1-and-1/2 cups of the cooking water.

Drain pasta and transfer to the skillet over low heat with sauce and toss.

Add vegetables and enough cooking water to create the sauce, tossing until vegetables are hot.

Transfer to a warm serving bowl, sprinkle with cheese and red pepper flakes and garnish with tomatoes and basil.Penne With Morels(Serve 4 as main course or 6 as side dish)1/2 pound fresh morels, soaked and drained

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 bunch spring onions, washed, trimmed, and finely chopped

1 pinch saffron, crushed and soaked in 1/2 cup warm vegetable or chicken stock

1/3 cup dry vermouth

3 sprigs fresh thyme left intact

1/2 cup heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound imported penne

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

About 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or more to tasteTo prepare:To clean the morels, in a large bowl, stir one teaspoon of sea salt into one quart of warm water. Remove morel stems and discard. Halve morels and soak in salted water for 30 to 40 minutes. With a slotted spoon or fingers, lift morels out of the water. Discard the water and debris. Rinse morels under cool running water and drain well. Pat dry with paper towels and coarsely chop.

In a large skillet over moderate heat, add oil and butter. When the foam subsides, add onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.

Add morels, raise the heat, and sauté until tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add salt and pepper, taste, and adjust the seasonings.

Add saffron and soaking liquid, vermouth, and sprigs of thyme, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until sauce develops a rich flavor, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the penne until al dente or according to the directions on the side of the package.

While the pasta cooks, slowly whisk cream into morel sauce and bring to a boil, and cook until it is thickened. Remove the sprigs of thyme. Taste and adjust seasonings and set off the heat.

Drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, add pasta to the morel sauce, toss, adding enough cooking water to coat the entire affair. Sprinkle with olive oil and cheese and serve at once.

Perfect as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken entrée.

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