Pasta with Asparagus, Peas, Lemon, and Crème Fraîche
This pasta is spring in a bowl. I’ve cooked it four times since asparagus first appeared at my local farm stand last month. I’ve served it to my family, my neighbors, and once, just to myself (with leftovers for everyone’s lunch the next day). I imagine I’ll make it again before summer tomatoes nudge asparagus and peas to the wayside. I hope you try it, too.
The roots of the dish come by way of recipe genius and cookbook author Melissa Clark. I started with her Pasta Primavera recipe and then tinkered. I about doubled the amount of vegetables, because asparagus, peas, and snap peas are so good in spring, so why not? And since I’m always aiming to minimize saturated fat, I scaled back the crème fraîche and swapped in olive oil for butter. I also finished the whole pan with a small handful of roughly chopped mint from my backyard, lots of lemon juice and zest, and a generous shower of freshly cracked black pepper.
About Crème Fraîche
If you’re unfamiliar with crème fraîche, consider it time to acquaint yourself with one of my favorite French imports. It’s essentially cultured cream made with a combination of heavy cream and buttermilk. The liquids sit at room temperature for a few days and thicken into a rich, tangy wonder. I routinely use it in everything from desserts, such as this whipped cream, to savory dips, such as this herb dressing. Look for it in small tubs in the dairy or cheese section of the market (or you can make your own using this method).
A Healthy Spring Pasta
The result is a satisfying and springy plate of pasta that remains light, SO tasty, and very nourishing. Each generous serving packs in 1 ⅓ cups vegetables, 8 grams of fiber (that’s about a third of your daily dose), and 18 grams of protein, not to mention loads of calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Nutrition aside, taste is the real reason to make this dish. Here are a few tips for getting it right:
Spring Pasta Prep Tips
- Use a big pan. The cooked pasta gets added to the veggies in the pan, so you’ll need plenty of room. If you don’t have a generous pan, sauté the vegetables in whatever pan will do the job. Then, transfer the veggies, along with the cooked pasta, to the pasta cooking pot. Finish prepping the dish there.
- Use spring onions. If you can get your hands on the small, tender, sweet onions of spring, grab them. About three will do, depending on their size.
- Feel free to use frozen peas. If you have the time to shell English peas, they are truly a wonder. But, I’ve also had great success with this recipe using frozen peas, too. Do what works.
- Salt your pasta water. Cooking the pasta in generously salted water will make the finished dish taste better. I add a few tablespoons of salt to the pasta cooking water as it heats up. It should taste salty like the ocean.
- Save some of that pasta water. Scoop a half cup or so out of the pot just before you drain the pasta.
- Eat it right away. This pasta doesn’t like to sit and should be plunked on your dining table as soon as it’s ready.
More tasty vegetable pasta recipes:
Pasta with Asparagus, Peas, Lemon, and Creme Fraiche
This recipe makes the most of asparagus and peas when they are sweet and tender in the springtime. You don’t need much more than s few spoonfuls of crème fraîche and generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice to make a nourishing pasta that you will want to come back to every spring.
- 12 ounces dried pasta, such as penne, fusilli, or rigatoni
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup thinly sliced spring onions (or thinly sliced red onion or shallots)
- 1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 6 ounces snap peas, tough strings removed, cut into ½-inch pieces ( 1 ½ cups)
- 2/3 cup fresh or frozen defrosted English peas
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- ¾ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon (2 tablespoons juice)
- 3 tablespoons crème fraîche (see notes)
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to pass at the table
Put a large pot of water over high heat with enough added salt that it tastes like the sea. When the water boils, add the pasta.
While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium. Add the onions and sauté until tender, 3 minutes or so. Add the asparagus, snap peas, English peas, salt, and pepper and sauté until crisp/tender, 3 to 4 minutes (they should still have a little snap to them, but no starchiness).
When the pasta is al dente, scoop about ½ cup of water from the pot and set aside. Drain the pasta through a colander set in the sink. Shake well.
Add pasta to the pan with the vegetables set over low heat. Add the lemon zest and juice, crème fraîche, mint, Parmesan, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Taste and add more salt, more freshly ground black pepper, and more pasta cooking water as needed.
Serve immediately with more Parmesan to add at the table.
Crème fraîche is a French-style cultured cream that is rich, thick, and slightly tangy. It’s sold in the dairy or cheese section of the market and is also easy to make (though it takes several days). If you can’t get crème fraîche, substitute sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt and cut the amount of lemon juice in half.
Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark’s Pasta Primavera from the New York Times