Riverdog Farm’s fresh-picked asparagus stars in this aglio e olio con verdure primaverili. Photos by Alexander Christiano
BY ALEXANDER CHRISTIANO*
On a recent sunny stroll through the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, I meandered past stalls with seasonal flowers and irresistible prepared foods before stumbling upon the Riverdog Farm stand, where the season’s full spring bounty was on display. There were bundles of vibrantly green asparagus, mounds of fresh fava beans, and an assortment of more perennial offerings like carrots, kale, and leeks.
Chatting with the farmers, I asked for a selection of their most ephemeral spring produce. The items inspired the following recipe, which is intended to serve as a vehicle for the flavors of spring. It makes use of the best produce being harvested right now at local farms like Riverdog.
Shopping seasonally supports a farm’s ecologically based practices. Riverdog uses crop rotation to enhance soil health and ecological diversity in order to provide Bay Area residents with a hearty diet of seasonal vegetables. The farm also offers animal products like meat and eggs, but I’ve elected to emphasize vegetables for this recipe, which is based on the classic Italian aglio e olio, a simple dish that combines garlic, olive oil, and sometimes peperoncino and fresh parsley.
For this aglio e olio con verdure primaverili, (garlic and olive oil pasta with spring vegetables), I’ve featured asparagus, green garlic, sugar snap peas, and, rapini; kale, red spring onion, and fresh fava beans would serve as wonderful additions, too. This is a good time to feature a robust current-harvest (2021) California extra virgin oil, since the gorgeous flavors will come through in the finished dish.
This is not a complex recipe, but it can be deceptively difficult to time. You’ll need to nail the cadence of cooking the vegetables alongside the pasta and then execute the mantecare for a well emulsified sauce. I’ve learned through trial and error and feel it’s best not to fret if the pasta comes out a little overcooked or the sauce breaks. You can always add more pasta water as a fix, and you can always practice again tomorrow and eventually become skilled at this appealing dish. ♦
*Alexander Christiano is a UC Berkeley interdisciplinary studies student who developed a culinary passion by cookingfor friends and family. He writes on dining, travel, and meditation for the Daily Californian, UC Berkeley’s premier student-run newspaper. Additionally, his study of Indian philosophy has been featured in Oxford University’s Broad Street Humanities Review, a student-run publication for interdisciplinary undergraduate scholarship. His interest in meditation echos into his food writing as an emphasis on the well-being of animals and the environment through recipes that nourish the body and mind.
This aglio e olio con verdure primaverili is based on a simple recipe that combines garlic, oil, and sometimes peperoncino and fresh parsley, to which you can add any seasonal vegetables you like.
For the (optional) breadcrumb topping:
Several slices of stale bread, finely chopped in a blender or by hand
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Pinch (or more) of a dried Italian herb blend: oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, rosemary, and sage (or use chopped fresh herbs sprinkled over the dish while serving)
For the pasta:
About 2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2pound spaghetti or pasta shape of your choice
1/3cup (or more) extra virgin olive oil
2–4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
2–3 stalks green garlic, thinly sliced and separated into white stems and green tops
1 handful sugar snap peas, de-stringed and sliced diagonally
1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe), sliced
1 bunch asparagus, peeled and separated into tips and thinly sliced stems
Reserved pasta cooking liquid
Start by filling a large pasta-cooking pot with water. Add the salt and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables and assemble in an organized mise en place for easy access while cooking. This dish comes together quickly so it is essential to have all ingredients on hand.
If you’d like to make the breadcrumbs, preheat a large skillet, wok, or saucier on medium heat. Toss in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and then add the breadcrumbs. Let the breadcrumbs toast until they take on a much darker brown color but take care not to burn them. If they look a little dry, it might be appropriate to add more oil. Once they seem well toasted, turn the heat off and add the dry herb blend. The residual heat in the pan will help release the herbal aroma and fragrance into the breadcrumbs. Let mixture cool on a paper towel–lined tray to help remove excess oil and ensure the breadcrumbs come out crunchy.
At this point, you want your pasta water to be reaching a boil.
Wipe your breadcrumb pan clean and place over medium high heat. Add several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and heat until hot enough that a piece of garlic will sizzle when added, but not too hot that the garlic burns or darkens too much, which would impart an acrid flavor. Add the sliced garlic and the white stems from the green garlic.
Immediately add the pasta to the pot of boiling water. Stir the pasta around occasionally to make sure it does not clump together. You’ll want to cook your pasta 2-4 minutes less than the time suggested on the package, aiming for a stage called molto al dente, which means “very undercooked.” This is so the pasta can meld with the emulsified sauce and continue cooking with the vegetables. Make sure to retain the pasta cooking water to use in the sauce.
Toast the garlic and the white parts of the green garlic stems in the sauté pan until they just begin to take on some color, then add the asparagus stems and rapini. These will take longer to cook than the sugar snap peas and asparagus tips, so give them a 1–2–minute head start. Then, add the asparagus tips and sugar snap peas. Continue to sauté the vegetables until they are softened but still firm to the bite. The vegetables will continue to cook when the pasta is added, so it is essential to not overcook them at this stage. The total duration of this stage should be about 3-5 minutes, depending on the strength of your flame.
At this point the mantecare or melding stage will begin. Add two or three generous ladles of pasta cooking water to the vegetable mix. (The pan should be hot enough that the water starts to boil on contact.) This starchy water will emulsify with the mix of oil and vegetables.
Next, add the molto al dente pasta to the vegetables and the pasta water. This is when the magic happens. Continue to cook the pasta, adding more pasta water if it starts to get too dry, and swirl the pasta in a circular motion to emulsify. The garlicky olive oil will begin to meld into a tight sauce as the pasta absorbs the flavored liquid. You may also add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to add a fragrant, lighter flavor of fresh oil that’s unexposed to high heat. Counteract this addition with more pasta water.
If both the vegetables and pasta were properly undercooked, you’ll have ample time to finish cooking the vegetables and pasta while finishing the sauce. The vegetables are done when they are just beginning to soften but still retain a slight bite to them. Likewise, I’d recommend turning the flame off just as the pasta turns al dente.
The final product should be a glossy sauce that coats the pasta in a luxurious sheen. There shouldn’t be a pool of liquid left behind in the pan, but the pasta should be saucy to the point that it doesn’t look too dry. Try a bite and add more salt if needed.
Plate your pasta and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and sliced green garlic tops. Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil if desired. Now, savor your delectable dish of fresh and light spring greens lathered in a delicious and fragrant sauce!