Spring Vegetable Pasta

Yesterday, I was on a bit of a cooking spree.  It has been very warm here lately (yes, I know Northern Californian warm is not really that warm, but it is worse without a/c!) so the afternoon called for margaritas and guacamole on the patio.  Then while Alex and a co-worker discussed all things programming and Walter snoozed, I migrated to the hammock with a magazine.   It was a lovely afternoon.

So along came dinnertime.  I usually don’t have any extra energy on the weekends to cook.  We are trying to see friends or get other things done and by the end of the day, I am just pooped.  However, still feeling nice from my afternoon in the hammock, I felt energized enough to embark on dinner (or maybe it was the tequila, it does seem to have an odd energizing effect on me).  It was still warm out so I wanted something nice and light, but still tasty to top off the day.  This Spring Vegetable Pasta (from America’s Test Kitchen of course!)  fit the bill.  I really enjoyed how the recipe cooks the pasta almost like it is risotto.  It gave the pasta a multi-faceted taste to it instead of just blah white pasta.  I started in on it a bit later than I intended, so Walter was asleep by the time I finished and Alex and I got to enjoy a fantastic meal on the patio by ourselves – those are the little things that make me happy!

Spring Vegetable Pasta

3 medium leeks , white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups); 3 cups roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 lb. asparagus , tough ends snapped off, chopped coarsely, and reserved; spears cut on bias into ½-inch-thick pieces
2 c. frozen baby peas , thawed
4 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
4 c. chicken broth (this can be veggie broth to keep the dish meat-free, but I like chicken broth better)
1 c. water
2 T. minced fresh mint leaves
2 T. minced fresh chives
½ t. finely grated zest plus 2 T. juice from 1 lemon
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Table salt
¼ t. red pepper flakes
1 lb. penne or farfalle pasta
1 c. dry white wine
1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about ½cup), plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper
1. Place dark green leek trimmings, asparagus trimmings, 1 cup peas, 2 teaspoons garlic, vegetable broth, and water in large saucepan. Bring to simmer over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low and gently simmer 10 minutes. While broth simmers, combine mint, chives, and lemon zest in small bowl; set aside.
2. Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have 5 cups broth; add water as needed to measure 5 cups). Discard solids and return broth to saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced leeks and pinch salt; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus pieces and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining cup peas and continue to cook 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to plate and set aside. Wipe out pot.
4. Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.
5. When wine is fully absorbed, add hot broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
6. Remove pot from heat, stir in lemon juice, Parmesan, half of herb mixture, and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan cheese and remaining herb mixture separately.

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