What are the best spring vegetarian pasta dishes? Please don’t say pesto!
Happily for you, David, vegetarian pastas really come into their own at this time of year. “All the beautiful greens, like asparagus and peas, are coming out,” enthuses Simona Di Dio, chef/co-owner at Bottega Caruso in Margate, who suggests giving peas a chance with her favourite dish from childhood: “It’s super-simple, but very comforting,” she says – which is good news for when the weather misses the spring memo.
Fry sliced onion in an abundance of good extra-virgin olive oil (“I’m quite generous when there aren’t many ingredients”) and, once they’re sizzling, add fresh mint and a handful of peas per person. “Add about a finger of boiling water [from the kettle], a little tomato sauce, and salt and pepper, then put on the lid and cook until the peas are tender.” The dish hinges on a flavoursome broth, so make sure you season it well, adding a little dried chilli, too, if you fancy. Meanwhile, get the pasta (“ideally ditalini, the small rounds”) on to boil, then transfer to the pea pan with a slotted spoon. “Let it all come together, and serve with lots of fresh mint and parmesan or pecorino [if you eat them].” This plateful, however, is equally good without cheese.
Chris Leach, chef/co-owner of Manteca in London, meanwhile, rounds up a menagerie of spring veg for his ragù-style pasta. “Gently cook a couple of crushed cloves of garlic in olive oil, then throw in peas, broad beans, chopped courgettes and asparagus, and cook quite quickly, maybe adding a splash of water.” Toss through long pasta such as spaghetti or tonnarelli (“a square spaghetti traditional to Lazio”), if you can get your hands on some, and finish with lemon juice and mint. “Some chopped wild garlic would be delicious in there, too,” Leach says, though if you go down that route, maybe omit or reduce the amount of garlic at the start.
“Courgette and egg is a lovely one for spring,” says Guardian columnist Rachel Roddy, who recommends making the courgette mimic the pasta. “So, if you’re doing short tubes, dice or cut it into little quarter-moons; and for spaghetti, slice the courgette really thinly.” Veg prepped, Roddy warms olive oil in a pan then cooks thinly sliced onion and the courgette until very soft. Get your chosen pasta into salted boiling water, then, in a bowl whisk a couple of eggs and egg yolks, parmesan, a little salt and lots of black pepper. Transfer the cooked pasta to the courgette pan and, very quickly, add the egg mixture and a little of the pasta cooking water to loosen, then stir and toss so everything gets coated in the creamy, emulsified sauce (add more pasta water if it feels a bit stiff).
“I also make a lot of spring bakes,” Roddy adds. “Braise some vegetables – courgettes or peas, say – par-cook big pasta shells, and maybe make some bechamel or use lengthened ricotta. Layer it all up, put it in the oven and finish off there.” Minestrone is another Roddy go-to at this time of year. She often adds a handful of pasta for the last 10 minutes of cooking, while cubes of bread fried in butter make a fine topping. A dollop or two of, ahem, pesto would be even better *ducks*.