Thursday, May 2, 2013

What Alaina Had in her Kitchen...Part 2

My Pasta Primavera
There I was again.  It was already nearly 5:30pm and I had no idea what was for dinner.  I noticed zucchini in the fridge and instantly thought.......Pasta Primavera!!!  Primavera means "spring" of course and I was definitely feeling spring and wanting a light tasty dish..........but did I have enough of the other traditional ingredients to make this work?  I found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that looked amazing and had simplified some of the traditional steps, but HARUMPH!  I had no mushrooms.......I hate asparagus (which the recipe called for)...............such as it always goes!  But no fear...I was about to use "What Alaina had in her kitchen"....! (See Part 1 here.)

My strategy when approaching recipes for which I don't have all the right ingredients is just to find suitable substitutes, but more importantly to use up the stuff I have in my fridge.  For the asparagus, I substituted bell peppers (adding more color to the dish was a plus!).  For the frozen peas, I substituted edamame (shelled).  And here was my stroke of brilliance....for the mushrooms, I substituted artichoke hearts.  Artichokes are my favorite vegetable....and I could already taste their flavor in with the other ingredients and the tomatoes.   Oh yum, this was gonna be good.  I decided to cook half of my garlic with the artichoke hearts as that combination just sounded yummy, even though the recipe called for cooking the garlic separately from the mushrooms (for which I was substituting the artichoke).

I'm also one of those people who usually doesn't cook vegetarian meals.  I have nothing against them and usually enjoy them, but many of you know that non-vegetarian spouses usually eat up a vegetarian meal with delight....and then ask "where's the meat?!"  That's my husband.  So I'm delighted to find a way to use up leftover chicken and decided to toss the 2 Cups I had in the fridge in this dish.

When you're using different ingredients than what a recipe calls for, you just have to make sure you read through the method, and make sure the way they're telling you to cook the ingredients makes sense for your substitution.  For instance, in this recipe it called for boiling all the vegetables together, but adding the green beans first, then the asparagus, then the zucchini, and finally the peas.  I knew the bell pepper would take just as long as the green beans, so I added those together in the beginning.  I also knew that the edamame would take much longer to cook than regular frozen peas, so I added those at the same time as the zucchini.  Just take into consideration the characteristics of your particular ingredient substitutions and modify cooking method/duration in accordance with that.

Finally, I'm always looking for ways to minimize the number of dirty dishes, so the recipe below reflects that and uses less dishes than they called for in the original recipe.  Phew!

Hope you guys enjoy this recipe...and have fun substituting in what's in your fridge, too!!  It turned out great...I'll definitely be making this over and over again, and I have to say that the artichoke hearts stood out like superstars in the sauce and totally made the dish.  Good luck! 
Pasta Primavera
Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 6
  • Table Salt
  •  4 oz Green Beans, cut into 3/4" pieces (I use the haricot verts--which is just a fancy name for thin green beans--found at Costco as the thick green beans commonly found here in Mexican supermarkets are just too stringy.)
  • 1/2 large bell pepper (preferably red, orange or yellow), medium diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, medium diced
  • 3/4 C frozen edamame, thawed
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 oz fresh artichoke hearts, sliced thin (I usually buy these off the street--see article--but they're also available at City Market in jars in the produce section.  I would not recommend using jarred/canned artichoke hearts, but if you try it let me know how it goes!)
  • About 3/4 lb tomatoes (preferably plum), peeled using the concasse method (see instructions below)
  •  1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional; since my 3 1/2 year old daughter doesn't love spice, I just added these flakes at the table to my own plate, but their flavor will be much more intensified if you add while cooking)
  • 1/2 C heavy cream OR 1/3 C crema (the only type of cream available here is heavy whipping cream, and I don't love using that in cooking but the traditional Mexican crema is super versatile with a neutral flavor--it's not as sour as sour cream--so you can use it almost any time a recipe calls for heavy cream that is reduced...just don't reduce as long since it's thicker)
  • 3/4 lb dried fettucine, spaghetti, or other long pasta
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • about 2 Cups pre-cooked chicken or shrimp (optional)
  • 1/4 C shredded basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (I buy the real stuff at's expensive but worth it!)
  1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat in a large stockpot for pasta.  Bring 3 quarts of water to boil over high heat in a large saucepan for vegetables.  Add 1 Tbsp salt to each pot.  Fill a large bowl with ice water; set aside.
  2. Concasse your tomatoes: Prepare tomatoes by removing stem area using a paring knife or a tomato corer.  On the opposite side of the tomato, use a paring knife to cut a shallow, small "X" in the tomato.  Blanch each tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (depending on size), then plunge into ice water bath.  Remove tomatoes and peel skin off starting at the "X" using your paring knife.  Cut peeled tomatoes into medium dice.
  3.  **Please note the following cooking times are adjusted for cooking at altitude.  If you're cooking at sea level, please reference the cooking times in parenthesis.  Add green beans and bell pepper to boiling water in saucepan.  Cook for four minutes. (1 1/2 minutes at sea level)  Add zucchini and edamame and cook for two minutes. (30 seconds at sea level)  Taste vegetables to ensure they are cooked "crisp tender" (or to your liking!), then drain them immediately and plunge into ice water bath to stop cooking.  Let sit until chilled, about 3 minutes, then drain well and set aside.
  4. Heat 3 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat until foamy in now empty saucepan.  Add artichoke hearts and 1 clove minced garlic and sauté until tender and slightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes (if using), reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tomatoes begin to lose their shape, about 5-7 minutes.  Add cream or crema and stir to combine.  If using cream, simmer until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. (There is no need to reduce your crema...add a splash of whole milk if your sauce seems too thick.)  Cover to keep warm and set aside. 
  5. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente while sauce is cooking.  Drain pasta, then (in now empty stockpot) add remaining 3 Tbsp butter over medium until foamy.  Add 1 clove garlic and sauté until fragrant and very slightly colored, about 1 minute.  Add blanched vegetables and stir to coat in garlic butter, then add chicken or shrimp (if using), stir again, and cook until all ingredients are heated through and infused with garlic flavor, about 2 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add pasta to pot with vegetables and meat, then rewarm sauce and add that in as well.  Reduce heat to low.
  6. Toss pasta and sauce with vegetables and meat until well coated.  Add basil and lemon juice, adjust seasonings if necessary and serve immediately, passing cheese separately.