Most of the time in this column, I am inspired by the classic dishes and preparations of France. But this week, I'm not spinning a coq au vin or a cassoulet, but rather attempting to eat as the French eat: by season.
I admit that it is not my forté, and I wonder if others have the same difficulty. I believe that the omnipresence of certain vegetables and fruits and meats in our supermarkets have led us to crave, and settle for, basil in wintertime or Brussels sprouts in summer. Food prices are generally affordable enough that we do not always notice an out-of-season premium, and local farmer's markets of local, seasonal produce can often be heartbreakingly more expensive than the supermarket.
But there is truth to the legend. Seasonal produce is better. Here in England, the shell-on peas, asparagus, and fava beans find new incarnations everywhere come springtime. And the asparagus are tender and snappy, not shriveled and limp like some winter specimens.
In this dish, I use penne as the showcase for tender, sweet, snappy springtime vegetables. And I have to say, the French are inventive in their use of pasta, covering it with ratatouille, baking it into gratins, and tossing it with their own Provençal red pistou. This version incorporates anything of the season: Here I use peas and zucchini along with anytime-broccoli, but you could also use fava beans, asparagus tips, or anything that screams spring. Fresh goat cheese is also in its prime in springtime, and makes a simple no-cook tangy cream sauce. All in all, this dish takes minutes to make, and is addictively light and decadent at once. Who says comfort food is only for winter?
- 3/4 pound broccoli florets
- 1 pound penne
- 1 tablespoon garlic oil
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 1 zucchini, cut into half moons
- 1 cup thawed frozen peas
- 10.5 ounces chevre, room temperature
- 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
- 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
Bring a pot of water to bowl, and salt it liberally. Blanch the broccoli until bright green and just tender to the knife, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the broccoli, and set aside, reserving the water in the pot. Cook the penne until al dente. Reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking water before draining.
Heat the garlic oil on medium heat, and add the shallots. Sauté lightly for 2 minutes, and add the zucchini. Sauté for 4 minutes, and add the peas. Sauté for 2 for minutes, and then decant the vegetables into a large bowl.
Lift the penne out of the water and into the bowl with the veggies. Add the fresh chèvre and Parmesan. Add as much pasta water as you need to turn the chèvre into a cream sauce. Top with the chopped parsley.