Embarrassment because it’s a dish a I typically avoid—an Italian-American classic that has become utter cliche, that 99% of the time is unsatistfyingly dominated by some overcooked vegetable—a stinky bit of broccoli here, a floppy snow pea there—and has a veil of healthfulness despite dependence on a gluey cream sauce (at best!) or even some sinister unidentifiable white sauce to make it somewhat interesting.
That’s not what I wanted. But I had eaten a lot of meat that day, and some pasta and fresh vegetables sounded like exactly what we needed for dinner. So I sent my husband out for asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and frozen peas, as well as some fresh chives. And the resulting dish, enriched with a bit of butter and cream, but lightened with pasta water and freshly-squeezed lemon juice, was just what the doctor ordered—the vegetables fresh and pungent, not overcooked, and the sauce light enough that we could eat seconds—and we certainly did.
Truly springy pasta primavera (pardon me for not giving exact amounts—you can and should wing this kind of dish)
3/4 lb spaghettini, cappellini, or spaghetti rigate
A little lump of unsalted butter
1 container cherry tomatoes, halved (the tomatoes, not the container)
A splash or two of heavy cream
1/2 bunch asparagus, tips cut off, the rest cut into small bite-size pieces
Some frozen peas
Freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Fresh chopped chives
Cheese for grating at the table
Put the salted water on for pasta. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the tomatoes and some salt. When the tomatoes start to wrinkle and release some juices, add the cream and let simmer for a few minutes. If the pasta is nowhere near done, turn down or off the heat at this point.
When the pasta is nearly done, turn the heat back on and add the asparagus; cover and simmer over medium-low heat for just a few minutes—you want the asparagus to remain firm-ish. Finally, add the peas and plenty of the pasta water to the pan and swirl or stir to combine. (Add more liquid than looks right—this pasta will absorb a ton of the sauce). Add lots of lemon juice and the chives. Transfer al dente noodles to the skillet and toss to combine. Serve with cheese.