by Douglas Abrams
Although there’s going to be a blizzard this week, the first spring vegetables are in season and it’s high time to start cooking them.
But before cooking, it is crucial to note that the best vegetables are locally grown and often organic. I like to buy my produce from local farmers’ markets.
The first dish that I made was a warm, tomato-flavored pasta primavera with Pecorino Romano, a salty sheep’s milk cheese. I started by cooking a half-pound of pasta and a half-pound of asparagus in salted water. After a couple minutes, when the asparagus was a vibrant green and al dente, I removed the asparagus and submerged them in cold water, setting the bright green color. After a few more minutes I removed the pasta from the pot and allowed it to sit in a bowl.
To start the sauce, I sauteed one spanish onion, roughly chopped, two cloves of garlic, minced, and the asparagus, cut into half inch segments, in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Once all the vegetables were brown and charred I added in a small can of crushed tomatoes and a pinch of salt.
I added all the cooked pasta, allowing it to cook for one more minute and absorb all the wonderful flavors of the sauce. To finish the dish, I added about a half cup of ground Pecorino Romano cheese—the perfect salty accompaniment to the sweet, caramelized vegetables—and a cup of fresh basil, roughly chopped. The best part of this dish is the balance of flavor. There’s so much complexity: the balance between the salty cheese and the sweet tomatoes, all the different textures of the vegetables, the fresh herbal hint of basil. Delicious.
I also like to roast asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper, and even more of the salty Pecorino Romano. This dish could not be simpler. Just rinse off the asparagus and snap off their woody bases. Then, toss the vegetables in a tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, and a pinch of dried red pepper flakes. Roast on 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until the asparagus is al dente. Finish the dish by sprinkling on a quarter cup of Pecorino Romano. Roasting the asparagus really unlocks their flavor. It takes away the fresh, zingy flavor of the asparagus and replaces it with a rich, nutty flavor.
To be honest, asparagus is one of my favorite foods. They’re so versatile. And, now that they’re in season, it’s the best time to cook them.